For Judy Collins, food and drink have been part of the journey
Singer, 77, tells how she beat her demons
Singer Judy Collins burst on the scene in the 1960s and is still going strong at age 77, even scoring a Grammy nomination this year for best folk album. Always candid, she has a new memoir, Cravings: How I Conquered Food (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), in which she writes about overcoming alcoholism and an eating disorder. Bulimic for 11 years until the early 1980s, she now adheres to a program she swears by called GreySheeters Anonymous. She avoids foods she says she is allergic to, such as sugar, flour, grains, wheat and corn, but eats fats ( butter and cheese) and proteins like chicken (with the skin on!). “It’s not a diet, I don’t restrict, I have wonderful, wonderful meals,” she says.
Q You have always been honest about your personal issues, your alcoholism ( you have been sober for decades) and bulimia. Why are these stories important for you to share?
A I really wrote the book so I could help people understand there is a solution, and they don’t have to go through all the years of struggle I went through. We are addicted to sugar, grains, flour, wheat and junk, and they will increase the chance of bulimia, obesity and anorexia. Those (foods) contain alcohol, and they set up a craving and a compulsion to have more. I don’t have any cravings now, and for years that was the problem. I’d get in and out of these diets, and sure, they work for a while.
Q You write about your childhood, that your father was an alcoholic and your mother made wonderful desserts, and how much you craved sugar. How big an influence did your childhood have on your later addictions?
A I think it was fundamentally in my DNA. They say these things are inherited; there are chemical imbalances we get, the color of our eyes, how tall we’re going to be. And I think the same thing is true for alcoholism and addiction. And there are people who may have it in their DNA, but they don’t get hooked. Maybe they don’t eat as much sugar as I did, or maybe they are just sane and sensible! Discipline has very little to do with it. … It’s not a moral issue. There’s nothing morally wrong with somebody who drinks too much, nor somebody who eats too much.
Q Why did you want to share in Cravings stories of historical diet gurus? Lord Byron and his food issues might surprise people!
A Oh my, he was our first celebrity dieter, really. ... He was a little nuts. I always say you have to be careful which demons you kill, because one of them may be being able to write poetry like Byron.
Q You write about your love of reading. What have you read recently that you really liked?
A I read a lot of history. I read recently a book by John Kelly called Never Surrender, which is the story of Churchill’s fight with those who wanted to appease Hitler. John Kelly writes brilliantly about that. That’s what I say: “Never surrender.” Life is a lifelong fight, and you’ve got to be up to it, you’ve got to get in battle gear for all the different things that happen to you.
Q It looks as if you have a busy touring schedule this year. What keeps you going and singing at this point in your career?
A I’m just so lucky, so blessed. ... I do about 130 shows a year. I get to go all over the world and make TV specials and sing Sondheim and write albums with Ari Hest. I told him, “You’re the one who got me back on the Grammys, otherwise they’d have totally forgotten about me!” I love it.
“My life is a tour of all the diets I could get my hands on,” singer Judy Collins says.