Ronni Robinson has a difficult relationship with food.
Since her childhood she’s been a compulsive overeater, obsessing over her next ‘fix’ and taking comfort and solace in bingeing sweet treats and then dealing with the shame and embarrassment that inevitably follows.
An honest and thoughtful memoir, “Out of the Pantry: A Disordered Eating Journey” takes us through Ronni’s early life in the US where you see the problem start to take root. Seemingly starved of affection by her parents and distant from her older brother, it seems clear quite early on that Ronni is subconsciously trying to fill the emotional hole that she instinctively knows is there – but with food – and as is usually the case, it’s the most unhealthy (and so delicious) foodstuffs she can get her hands on that best fill the gap. Sweets, biscuits, cakes – she scoffs them all down, moves the remainder around in the packets so you can’t tell and hides the wrappers in the trash. It’s immediately obvious to us as readers that this little girl has a problem, even if she can’t see it herself.
Little Ronni is big on sports but even so, her clothes start to get obviously tighter. Eventually Mum gets sick of the treats disappearing and her daughter’s expanding waistline, but instead of speaking to her daughter about it, she basically hides the snacks, reinforcing Ronni’s feelings of embarrassment. Ronni’s not going to ask where the cookies are, so she starts to use her saved-up pocket money to buy treats and eat them all herself, hiding the evidence in the bottom of the trash can or in bins near the store. It really feels like some understanding and affection could have headed off a lot of what Ronni has gone through in her life from this point onwards, but sadly, this wasn’t offered to her and her obsession took a far more destructive route.
Sporty all her life, Ronni would often keep to a ‘healthy’ weight as she could work off a lot of what she was bingeing on, however the weight still found her eventually and the figures she shares about her yo-yo’ing weight and how much she has lost and gained over the years is quite extraordinary. Her mother’s comments when she returned back from college really ram the point home of what she was trying to compensate for with the things that made her feel good. If her parents had done their job properly and made her feel good about herself, then she might not have turned to food to make her feel good, then bad again, almost immediately afterwards. She might not have temporarily ended up in the arms of a narcissistic bully either, but that’s another chapter.
Some of the scenarios Ronni recounts must have been hard to talk about. Hanging around the fryers at her first job in Burger King, eating handfuls of hot fries straight from the basket so quickly they burned her mouth, buying pints of ice cream, donuts, cereal and milk, cookies and chocolate bars and eating the lot in the car, verging on rudeness at social events because she was so focused on what food was coming out where and when, right up to the point where the book starts, and she’s eating her daughter’s discarded pizza crust out of a trash can at a school event, realising that people may be watching her do it.
One of the things that stood out for me as quite upsetting in this book was realising that for the longest time, Ronni didn’t think that there was anything unusual about what she was doing, or that she needed help because compulsive overeating wasn’t (isn’t?) really as acknowledged, or treated as sympathetically as other eating disorders, for example, anorexia or bulimia nervosa; if she had known this she may have looked for help earlier and her earlier story may have been different.
I was given a copy of this book to review, and although it made me sad at times, I thoroughly enjoyed Ronni’s writing. She’s funny, brave, vulnerable and most of all, she’s strong. Through her honesty and the support of those that love her she was able to discover her own truth and what she needed to do to take control -and then used that to start a blog to help others suffering from compulsive overeating and other food issues, which in turn led her to write this book.
An engaging and well written life story, painfully honest in places, but ultimately a triumph. If you’ve ever struggled with food, or indeed anything that was supposed to be a comfort that has become a struggle or an addiction instead, then this book will speak to you.