Photograph by Brad Trent

Judy Collins’ magnificent voice has been part of the soundtrack of our lives for decades. She first became famous more than half a century ago when folk music radiated out from Greenwich Village to every corner of the globe. She has recorded and toured ever since. At age 77, as a devotee of yoga, healthy eating, meditation, and other life-enhancing practices, she shows no sign of slowing down.

And yet, there’s a lot about Judy Collins that most of us never knew, at least until now.

She has just published Cravings, a memoir that portrays her unparalleled career in music against a brutal, unforgiving, and all but all-encompassing eating addiction.

Collins has been through it all – bulimia, compulsive overeating, and a never-ending struggle to find the perfect diet or weight loss plan.

In her book, she offers fascinating biographies of the great diet doctors and weight loss gurus of the last 130 years, presenting them not as distant historical figures but as individuals who suffered from their own weight issues and who struggled to find ways to cope.

Cravings is unflinchingly honest and compelling. In a phone interview, Collins made clear that the point of the book is not exhibitionism. (As Hollywood publicists say, “celebrity plus disease equals People Magazine cover.)

Instead, Collins seeks to carry the message that there is an answer for compulsive overeating, and it doesn’t require an expensive weight loss program.

“I tried absolutely everything,” Collins says. “Ultimately, I found my answer in a 12-step program called Graysheeters Anonymous. I wrote the book to share this answer with everyone who suffers.”

As Collins recounts in Cravings, in the late 1950s, an overweight wife of a compulsive gambler attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting with her husband.

That meeting was a eureka moment for her, as she realized that the same principles keeping gamblers from the craps table could keep her from the dessert table.

That’s how Overeaters Anonymous was born.

As Collins writes in Cravings, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) originally offered various meal plans, including one known, either infamously or beneficially, depending on your perspective, as the “Grey Sheet.”

So how do you really lose weight, and what did OA bring to the table? The basic idea shared by the weight loss experts that Collins surveys was to eat primarily animal proteins and vegetables, and eliminate from one’s diet anything made with white flour or white sugar.

Getting the cheap carbs out of one’s diet eliminates the “food fog” that typically envelops compulsive overeaters. Thus the weight slides off and the individual is able to deal with the emotional issues that often led to the compulsive overeating, bulimia, or anorexia in the first place.

Overeaters Anonymous takes things a step further, Collins notes, by applying AA’s 12 steps to the problem of overeating. Collins actually lists AA’s cofounders, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, as “diet doctors” because an early supporter of the program, a priest named Father Ed Dowling, pointed out to the two men that AA’s principles helped him with his overeating.

After having spent too many years on the weight gain/loss rollercoaster, Collins found the Grey Sheet diet approach in Overeaters Anonymous to be her salvation.

“Once I found Grey Sheet,” she says, “I never had to take one more compulsive bite. I was free.”

To her chagrin, however, as she writes in Cravings, Overeaters Anonymous abandoned the Grey Sheet approach, which includes weighing and measuring ones food before every meal.

“How can you have a group that helps people with their weight problems that doesn’t give them a meal plan?” Collins asks.

Some other OA members felt the same way. Their response: to start a separate 12-step program, Greysheeters Anonymous, preserving the original OA eating plan and approach to food and spirituality.

Collins writes that she is a firm adherent of the Greysheeters Anonymous approach and regularly attends telephone meetings and face-to-face meetings as part of her ongoing recovery.

“I still perform more than 120 days a year,” Collins says. “I’m on the road constantly. Those phone meetings work. They are my lifeline.”

Collins’ message in Cravings is that Greysheeters Anonymous did for her what Weight Watchers, the Scarsdale Diet, and a host of other famous and infamous weight loss approaches did not.

“I’m healthy, I’m happy, and food doesn’t dominate me, as it did for decades,” Collins says. “The diet industry is a billion dollar industry and as hard as it tries it cannot accomplish what a simple phone meeting in Greysheeters Anonymous gets done every day. That’s the solution that’s worked for me. I wrote Cravings because I wanted everyone who suffers from overeating, anorexia, or bulimia to know that there is an answer.”


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