Health & Beauty | 2 March 2016Breaking Vegan: Conquering Those Sweet Emotions Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Jordan Younger’s life journey took her to the ends of food addiction and back. The popular vegan blogger opens up in her book Breaking Vegan: One Woman’s Journey from Veganism, Extreme Dieting, and Orthorexia to a More Balanced Life about her struggle to find balance in her diet and in her life. After an orthorexic diagnosis, Younger gave up all food diet titles and focused on the most important thing, her health. These days, she focuses on staying healthful mentally and physically through embracing some of what she previously considered off limits. In this excerpt from her book, you can read about Jordan’s love-hate relationship with sugar and she’s doing now to tame the beast. While I was recovering, I cut way back on time in the kitchen. In the height of my orthorexic days, everything in my world revolved around cooking, baking, recipe developing, food photography, food writing, and planning far in advance what I was going to actually eat versus what I was just going to make for the blog. And if I wasn’t focused on all that, I was focusing on how I was going to burn off anything I’d just eaten. Stepping away from my obsession to create in the kitchen was helpful in the beginning stages of my recovery, but part of me missed cooking and food photography as a creative outlet. My readers frequently mentioned how much they missed the recipes on my blog, and my friends not so subtly hinted that they wouldn’t mind having my healthy baked goods lying around my apartment like they used to. The reason the decrease was so noticeable is because I didn’t just cut back on recipe developing and recipe blog posts; I avoided them entirely. I wrote just one recipe post in a five-month period, after consistently posting recipes five days a week for nearly a year. Once I was far enough into my recovery to recognize that I could cook and bake again without the fear of having excess food around, I decided it was time to experiment with something new. I was pretty comfortable making smoothies, acai bowls, raw desserts, and veggie dishes for the blog, because even during the early stages of my recovery, I was hard at work creating plant-based dishes for the app I had already agreed to do before I transitioned my diet. Something I wasn’t at all comfortable with, aside from attempting to make chicken and fish dishes (I still struggle with those!), was refined sugar. [I should add that refined sugar is nothing to idealize. Some people suffer from sugar addiction, and eating a diet high in sugar means having an excess of empty calories in our diet. But on the flip side, for someone recovering from an eating disorder and trying to reverse an all-out fear of refined sugar, demystifying it and showing yourself that you can have whatever you want in moderation is much healthier and more freeing for your mind (and body!) in the long run.] Even writing it now triggers those sinful, off-limits feelings I used to get so strongly whenever I thought about any form of sugar that wasn’t derived from stevia, honey, agave syrup, coconut nectar, or maybe, if I was feeling wild, date sugar. After being in recovery for about six months, I was finally getting comfortable eating foods with refined sugars, like frozen yogurt and the occasional baked good, but my issue was with making them myself and actually witnessing the sugar going into them. Without knowing the details, at least I could kind of pretend. I had always idolized bloggers who seemed to have no fear of the sugar content in their recipes. Yeah, I felt that some of the combos of butter, sugar, flour, and oil they used were kind of outdated and could be replaced with healthier alternatives, but that didn’t take away the deep-rooted and silent jealousy I felt when I perused their websites and imagined them indulging in their decadent desserts with no anxiety or hesitation. And for all I knew, some of them might not have even touched their desserts after they made them and photographed them, but in my mind I felt that if they were making it, they had to be more comfortable around it than I would have been. It took me months of back-and-forth deliberation before I finally decided to create a recipe with brown sugar in it. Before that, every time I got close I became overwhelmed with the fear of having too much of the potential dessert in my apartment and subsequently talked myself out of it. I would have intense flashbacks to the difficult orthorexic days when I created raw vegan desserts and ate every single bite of them after photographing them—usually because I was starving and was halfway shocked that I was allowing myself to eat solid food at all! I knew it would be healthier to create a sugary dessert at home than to order one at a bakery or a restaurant, but I also knew that watching myself pour in the brown sugar the recipe called for might trigger something very anxious and fearful inside me. Regardless, I decided it was time, and I knew when I was finally ready. I needed to ease my mind a bit and show myself that if I could eat a cup (245 g) of frozen yogurt with toppings from a yogurt place down the street, then I could bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies and enjoy them just as much. Plus, I needed to show myself I could enjoy them without eating the whole entire batch out of pure anxiety and the desire to get them out of my kitchen. And it was exciting to think about making and photographing something I knew my readers would enjoy. I had really missed the cooking aspect of blogging, and I knew I had it in me to bring my readers something balanced but decadent at the same time. What I decided to do was put my own spin on a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie recipe. It included brown sugar—the real kind, and organic and fair trade to boot—and real chocolate chips (not dairy-free! Gasp!), but I substituted the white flour with almond flour and the canola oil with coconut oil, and I added in a few big scoops of almond butter to up the protein content. I couldn’t entirely get rid of my desire to make healthier alternatives! There’s a big difference between orthorexia and a passion for health. Becoming My Own Best Friend As I was mixing everything together, I vacillated between telling myself “See, you can make something delicious and satisfying while also keeping some of the nutritional value! You go, girl!” and “Holy crap, these aren’t going to be very healthy, so I need to be really careful about how much of them I eat.” Similarly, I was going back and forth between bursting with pride for making something so out of my comfort zone and bubbling with concern for what the heck would happen once these cookies were actually baked and cooling on the counter, staring me in the face, no doubt. I tried as much as I could to put the anxious thoughts out of my mind so I could attempt to enjoy the experience and let it be as cathartic as possible. It was my first time baking anything with sugar in years, so I knew what I really needed to focus on was being kind to myself and nonjudgmental about whatever was to come from it. It would be a learning experience, and no matter what happened, I would come out of it with a greater awareness of myself and where I was in my recovery process. After combining all the ingredients and tasting the dough, one of my first thoughts was whoa, real cookie dough tastes a hell of a lot better than the “cookies” I’d been throwing together for the past few years with oats, almond butter, mashed banana, and cacao nibs. My second thought was … This is what I have been so worried about?! This is a cakewalk! It was a really cool feeling to soak in that wave of realization. Food is food. Food fuels us, we should enjoy it, and we should not let it get in the way of our lives. For a food blogger, it has a lot more complication to it, as our jobs are pulled into it too, but at the end of the day, it is something we need and something we should have a good relationship with. It took this cookie-dough-tasting experience for me to add yet another missing piece of recovery awareness to my ever-growing puzzle. The baking itself didn’t go quite as smoothly as the batter tasting. I wasn’t entirely sure how long to leave the cookies in the oven, since it had been a long, long time since I had baked anything with real eggs in it, and once they started expanding and getting golden brown along the edges, I decided it was time to take them out. Really what I was experiencing was a major panic about leaving them in for too long, and I was having some anticipation issues because of my mental hype around the situation. I wasn’t super concerned about how they were going to turn out aesthetically because I already knew my plan was to crumble them and put them into a jar for a “Half-Baked Gluten-Free Cookies in a Jar” recipe post, but I was pretty concerned about how they were going to taste. The anxiety that started to take over my insides while they were baking prompted me to take them out far too soon and also to begin tasting them before they were even partially cooled. The cookies were totally stuck to the aluminum foil they’d been baking on top of, and I was so eager to get them into their jars I just accepted the huge mess that took place while I frantically scraped them. However, even though the final product was a bit of a mess for me psychologically, it didn’t entirely matter, because my reaction to the mess had changed. I was sort of upset that I hadn’t been able to let the first batch finish cooking, and I was also sort of upset that I ate a few too many of them when they were straight out of the oven (okay, upwards of half a batch). But I didn’t get extremely down on myself about it, and I certainly didn’t judge my choices at all. I totally understood why the situation was so difficult to deal with. I knew before I decided to make the cookies that it was going to be a struggle, and that’s why I wanted to do it. I wanted to face the challenge, and I especially wanted to do it so I could get over the hump and start feeling a little more normal about sugar in general. I was kind to myself, and I reacted the way I would to a friend who was recovering from an eating disorder. I would never tell that friend they’d done anything wrong by getting anxious in the situation. I would praise them for challenging themselves and remind them how much easier it will get with time. So that’s exactly what I did with myself. I was finally able to begin practicing the art of being my own best friend. And that was much more valuable than my previous tactic of avoiding sugar at all costs. The other thing was, even though I felt bad that I overindulged right off the bat, I had a much more normal reaction to the second and third batches, and I photographed them both inside and outside for well over an hour without the anxiety of feeling like I needed to try more. I let myself have my fix, and then I was done. When I made vegan pumpkin chocolate chip “cookie dough” in New York nearly a year before, I panicked after overindulging and forced myself to eat more and then throw the rest away (a whole batch worth!) so I didn’t need to deal with having it in my apartment anymore. This is what I learned from the experience: I think it’s very normal to eat cookie dough when you bake, and I would even take it a step further and say I think you should! I once read on the blog of someone who had suffered from an eating disorder in the past that she now eats too much cookie dough whenever she bakes and is proud of it because doing so would have sent her into a tailspin when she was sick. I read her article when I was in the middle of my eating disorder, and I was horrified. Proud of eating too much cookie dough? I could hardly imagine such a thing. I was torn between judging her for being unhealthy and envying everything about her approach. But hey, now I get it. Maybe my cookie dough eating means I’m finally getting a little more normal. And if I had overindulged in cookie dough in the past, I certainly would have planned to skip dinner or at least have a juice or a protein shake in place of solid food later on. But I ate a full dinner that night, and I felt great. I did it because I was hungry, and I wanted it, and I knew it’s what my body needed. Imagine that. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Finding balance in life is a goal many of us strive to achieve. Whether it’s through a healthy diet, exercise regimen, state of mind, relationship, or other activity (or all of the above), we spend our days trying to be, and become, our best selves. But what happens when all that focus starts to dominate our lives? When our desire for “perfect health” trumps everything else, perhaps without us even realizing it? What happens when our solution starts becoming the problem? These are questions that author and popular blogger Jordan Younger faced when she decided that her extreme, plant-based lifestyle just wasn’t working in favor of her health anymore–and questions that you may be facing too. In Breaking Vegan, Jordan reveals how obsessive “healthy” dieting eventually led her to a diagnosis of orthorexia, or a focus on healthy food that involves other emotional factors and ultimately becomes dysfunctional, even dangerous. In candid detail, Jordan shares what it was like to leave veganism, the downfall of her desire to achieve nutritional perfection, and how she ultimately found her way to recovery. In addition to this, Jordan outlines an “anti-diet,” whole-foods-based eating plan featuring more than 25 recipes to help inspire others to find similar balance in their own lives. Breaking Vegan is about tolerance and forgiveness. And ultimately, forging one’s own path toward happiness. 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