Sunday, February 28, 2021

Cravings: How I Conquered Food by Judy Collins

"When I was controlled by food my soul shrank and my fear grew.  When I was abstinent, my soul grew and my body shrank.  When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, not only was I obsessed with food but my mind never stopped. The chatter, the talk, the back and forth, the internal argument was never-ending.  The peace of mind, quiet and serenity that I prayed for from the depths of my illness came with surrender.  It is something for which I am eternally grateful".  - Judy Collins

I have never been a smoker or had a problem with alcohol or drugs but I understand people who do because my addiction since I was a teenager has been food.  My weight is not good.  It's not healthy and over the years I have tried reading diet books and overeating memoirs but when it comes to sticking to a diet I have nothing but false starts.

And so a few weeks ago I was watching an interview on PBS with the legendary folk-singer Judy Collins.  She was very insightful in talking about her life and the current times we are living through.  After the interview I went to Amazon to see if Judy had written any books and it turns out she has written several.  One of her books, Cravings: How I Conquered Food published 2016, stood out in particular and so I decided to give it a read.   

It's a marvelous memoir about Judy Collins' life long struggle with food and bulimia and it's not every memoir that can boast a favorable review from the historian Ron Chernow and a starred review from Publisher's Weekly.  What makes Cravings so good is first Judy's writing.  She is not afraid to dig deep regarding her eating disorder and the answers she ultimately found with the 12 step program. 

Cravings is structured in an interesting way.  Chapters that deal with Judy Collins' life alternate with chapters devoted to the history of dieting.  I didn't know for example that  Lord Byron devised his own diet plan which consisted of tea, slices of toast, vegetables and chain smoking or that William the Conqueror fashioned his version of the liquid diet which involved drinking ale, beer, wine and nothing else.  

Fortunately as the centuries rolled on more medically sound nutritionists arrived and Judy tells their stories. Gaylord Hauser, for example, known in the 1940's as the Nutritionist to the Stars, Dr. Alfred Pennington who in 1953 published A New Concept in the Treatment of Obesity in the journal of the American Medical Association, Jean Nidetch the founder of Weight Watchers, Dr. Robert Atkins, Dr. Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Healing.  These diet plans began to show a pattern, eliminating starch, white bread, pasta, potatoes and drinking plenty of water.  Exercise and vitamins began to be added as well.

But Cravings is primarily a memoir of Judy Collins' personal struggles with food and also about her life.  She had a remarkable father, Charles Thomas Collins, blind since he was four but graduated with honors from the University of Idaho.  He was a fun loving man who inspired Judy to follow her dreams.  But he was addicted to alcohol and was never able to stop.  Judy writes about her mother, her siblings, the romances in her life, her friends and her music teacher, Dr. Antonia Brico, a famous musician in her own right, who was heartbroken when Judy as a teenager abandoned the piano to take up folk music and the guitar.  They would reconnect years later when Judy made a film about Dr. Brico, honoring her career.  

In Cravings Judy Collins is very generous to all the people she has known.  If she is hard  on anyone it's herself. Her life has been one of triumph and tragedy but today she is at peace, happily married for twenty-five years, a grandmother and she still tours, although at 82 not as often.  And because Judy wrote Cravings to help others she also includes the diet she has been following for many years.  It's strict but very simple.  I also like that her daily routine includes meditation.  Judy's life was changed years ago when she read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  The older I get the more fascinated I too become by meditation, Buddhism, past lives.  

Who should read Cravings?  I think anyone with an eating disorder or any form of addiction would benefit from Judy Collins' hard earned wisdom.  But I would expand that and say if you are stuck in your life, looking for a new path, you can also benefit from this book. I know I am going to try to incorporate what I learned from Cravings in my life but ultimately the teacher can provide the way but it's up to the students to follow through.