Monday, December 28, 2015

Being orthorexic... A review of Jordan Younger's Breaking Vegan...

Okay, first thing's first.  I don't know the first thing about veganism.  I have a couple of acquaintances who are vegans, but many more of my non meat eating friends are vegetarians.  The vegan lifestyle doesn't appeal to me, though I kind of admire people who don't consume animal products.  I don't think I could do it, but more power to those who can.

While I eat meat and will continue to do so for the foreseeable time being, I am interested in other lifestyles and true stories.  I also find eating disorders kind of fascinating.  That's why I downloaded Jordan Younger's recently published book, Breaking Vegan.  I read an article about Younger and her claim of being "orthorexic".

For those who have not heard of the term, orthorexia refers to the condition of being obsessed with "healthy" and "clean" eating.  The term was coined in 1997 by Dr. Steven Bratman, an organic farmer from upstate New York whose career began in the late 1970s.  Dr. Bratman later went to medical school and focused his practice on alternative medicine.  He now practices preventive/occupational medicine in the San Francisco Bay area.

I had heard of orthorexia before I read Ms. Younger's book.  I'm not sure where I heard it.  I want to say the first time I heard it was when I was in graduate school, taking a course in health promotion... the class where we had to write four papers about bulimia and developing a campaign to combat it.  I ended up learning a whole lot about eating disorders that semester to the point at which I was pretty sick of reading about it.  I took that class in 2000, though, and it was mainly about getting people to jump on a health promotion bandwagon, rather than treating bulimia or other eating disorders.  As an aside, I thought that class would never end and was so glad when it finally did.

Anyway, Jordan Younger had always had problems with her stomach and was always interested in healthy eating.  At age eleven, she swore off "unhealthy" foods.  By high school, she quit eating red meat.  Eventually, she became a vegan and started writing a very popular blog called The Blonde Vegan.  She eventually renamed it The Balanced Blonde after she determined that being a vegan no longer worked for her.  That's basically what Breaking Vegan is about.

Younger claims that her vegan lifestyle had become unhealthy for her.  She developed food obsessions and restricted compulsively until she started to suffer physical and mental health problems.  She was the type of person who would eat before she attended social events or bring her own food.  She brooded over what she ate and how much, whether or not something made her feel "too full" or fat, and whether or not it was healthy enough to be consumed.

Younger's obsession was great for her blogging.  She spent her days creating, developing, and testing original vegan recipes.  She took pictures of her creations and put them on her blog, along with juice cleanses.  She sold merchandise, too.  Younger eventually became very popular and her blog was enormously successful.  But then she stopped having periods.  She decided that she needed to add some animal protein back to her diet.  She started with salmon and eventually progressed back into being an omnivore.

I wasn't all that surprised or upset about Younger's decision to change her diet.  I figure that's a very personal thing.  I was surprised by how upset her followers became.  Would you believe that Younger got death threats for deciding to eat food from animal sources?  Who knew that vegans could be such a militant lot!  Or so Younger claims, anyway.

I see that Amazon reviewers have mostly given Younger low ratings and terrible reviews and blame her for making veganism look unhealthy.  As I mentioned before, I am not a vegan and don't know much about veganism.  I do think, however, that a person's health is a personal thing.  Perhaps for Younger, eating meat really was healthier.  I don't see how anyone could deny her that truth if she's the one who experienced it.  At the same time, I know that many people are able to be vegans and thrive on that lifestyle.  That's okay, too.

I don't think it's wrong that Younger wrote about her experiences going back to eating animal products.  I can see why many of her followers were disappointed, but I also think that the mature perspective is to understand that everyone is different, tastes differ, and we all have our own lives to lead.  I will comment, though, that I found Younger's book a bit self-indulgent.  Throughout the book, she includes pictures of herself in all her blondness, posing with vegetables, friends, and looking ethereal.  It doesn't add that much to the substance of the book.  She also has a bunch of unnecessary self-quotes in her book.  I'd read a passage and then see it rewritten in a cutesy font, as if it was some kind of sage sermon that I should take to heart.  After seeing a couple of those, I'd skip over them, annoyed.  They seemed extraneous and self-important.

I also thought this book took a little too long to end.  I thought I was done with her story, then there would be another chapter or two... along with appendices.  Some might appreciate the vegan recipes she includes.  Maybe I would, too, though I have to admit that I kind of skimmed the very end because I just wanted to finish.

My rating will not be as harsh as the ratings she got from other readers.  At this writing, Jordan Younger's book has an overall star rating of one-and-a-half stars on Amazon.  84% of reviewers awarded just one star.  14% awarded five stars.  No one, so far, has awarded three stars...  at least not on Amazon.  I will be the one person who gives Younger a three star rating.  I thought her book was mostly interesting enough and decently written.  I appreciate that it was her story about her experiences.  I can't speak to whether or not she's spreading "false information" or writing things that are "dangerous".  I am simply commenting as a reader who has studied eating disorders.

I award three stars because I felt Breaking Vegan could use some editing and I found it a bit repetitive and self-indulgent.  A little concision would have been ideal, at least in my opinion.  And, in the interest of brevity, I will leave my remarks at that.


  1. This serves as evidence that just about anything can become an obsession.

    I attended a lecture by Dr. Steven Bratman, though the topic was not orthorexia but occupational medicine. That's his area of board certification -- his only are of board certification if I'm not mistaken, though it would be far from the first time I was mistaken.

    I have absolutely nothing on which to base my hypothesis, but I suspect that the majority of death threats are from people who are habitual death threat makers. I suspect they just wait for a controversy to arise, then go into their standard modus operandi. i doubt most of them have any strong ties to the causes over which they're usually making the death threats. Such a hobby will become increasingly less feasible as technology chips away at our anonymity. The ability to manufacture death threats should likewise become less feasible.

  2. He seemed a bit quirky. I wouldn't go to him as an occupational medicine physician if I had any choice. One of my professors thinks his whole "Orthorexia Nervosa" thing was entirely a lucrative gimmick, although Dr. Bratman didn't seem that insincere in his occupational medicine presentation - more odd than phony. My professor was quick to point out that the "orthorexia" diagnosis is not included in the current DSM and doesn't seem to be a likely inclusion for the next edition. Then again, who knows? Money seems to speak as loudly as anything else in such matters. If he has enough of it, he may soon have even more. Another professor did recommend reading HEALTH FOOD JUNKIE.

    1. The DSM also did away with NPD right? And I know that's a thing.

      I suppose someone like the author could just be diagnosed with EDNOS.


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