Cravings: How I Conquered Food
By Judy Collins
254 pages, $26
I met Judy Collins a few months ago when she visited Buffalo to promote her new PBS special. Everyone present was astonished at how gorgeous, ageless and ethereal she looked at age 77.
In spite of all of her talents and accomplishments, her awards and her amazing life, “Cravings: How I Conquered Food,” may be her most important.
Her success as a singer for six decades is well documented, by more than 50 albums and numerous Grammys and awards. Her voice today still holds that magic, but music is only one of her considerable talents.
Collins has already written several best-selling memoirs, including "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes," "Sanity and Grace" and "Singing Lessons." She directed a documentary on her childhood piano teacher that was nominated for awards. Still a child of the 60’s, she continues to be an outspoken activist for a number of causes.
It would be easy to think that Collins has led a charmed life but nothing would be further from the truth.
For years, she was a addicted to alcohol and drugs. She went through an acrimonious divorce and years-long custody battle. She had turbulent relationships with Steven Stills and Stacy Keach in which her addictions played a key role. Her only son died of a drug overdose.
She has shared those struggles in previous autobiographies. In “Cravings,” she focuses on her lifelong battle with food in graphic detail, from some of her earliest memories of stealing cake and cookies as a child, to bulimia, to finding balance in her life and diet.
What makes this book unusual though is how she structures each chapter with an in-depth description of a famous diet -- whether from history or one of the current weight loss programs such as Weight Watchers or Adkins.
She begins with William Banting, whose “clients” included Edward V and Edward VI, and Queen Victoria. Banting was so pleased with his own weight loss that he wrote and published “A Letter on Corpulance: Addressed to the Public.”
Collins has been happily married since 1996 to Louis Nelson, who has designed everything from the nutritional panels that appear on food packaging (ironic) to the mural of portraits at the Korean War Memorial.
She has also found an eating regimen. Just as she finally realized what drugs and alcohol were doing to her voice and body, she also discovered that her body cannot process sugar, grains, flour or wheat. By eliminating them from her diet, she no longer has the cravings and the highs and lows that plagued her for years. Looking at the book photo, it is hard to argue with her.
At one point her mentor, Antonia Brico, tells her “Who knows does not tell and who tells does not know.”
Collins’ philosophy is different: “I tell, since I want you to know.”
Her eating regimen, “Judy’s Simple Food Plan,” barely fills two pages. It is truly a simple plan and she sticks to it religiously. She makes it clear that she did not invent it; the diet is a variation of Overeaters Anonymous, having been helped by AA earlier in her career.
She brings to her eating the same discipline she brings to her music:
“I do not eat between meals, no matter what, not even holidays, parties, weddings or funerals. I do not eat snacks, or junk, or dessert or sugar. For me it is three meals a day, nothing in between, all weighed and measured with no sugar, carbs, wheat, grain or junk.”
Though some may find this oppressive and unrealistic, for Collins it represents freedom from thinking about food. Clearly, it has contributed to her current healthy lifestyle and with the health issues of so many music legends in the news lately, it is gratifying to see her healthy and happy at last.
Kathleen Rizzo Young is a veteran News contributing critic.