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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: When I first heard in an Overeaters Anonymous meeting that compulsive overeating is a "disease," I said, "Yeah, really!" not believing a word of it. But after years of fad diets and 50 pounds of yo-yo weight losses and gains, it didn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that I am different from my noncompulsive (and usually thinner) friends. Unlike average people who get hungry, eat a meal and are then satisfied, I remain hungry most of the time.

My problem isn't lack of willpower. What I lack is a reflex, a signal that says, "Full! Enough!" I didn't choose to have this condition. Who in her right mind would choose to be hungry all the time?

Words cannot describe my relief when I understood that I had a physical problem. I wasted years feeling guilty and ashamed because of my compulsive eating. For me, the solution has three parts because what began 40 years ago as a physical condition has created emotional and spiritual baggage that I carry with me today.

Almost everyone has heard of the Twelve Steps of the "Anonymous" programs, including: Admit your problem; believe you can be helped; ask for help; clean up your act; make amends; connect to a power greater than yourself; and help others. These steps form a decent life plan for me. They are helping me turn my life around and reconnect with myself, my spouse, my work and my body.

It does not matter that I did not choose to be this way. I am this way. And what I do about it is entirely up to me. After one month, following a generous plan of eating and working my program with plenty of support from other OA members, I'm one clothing size smaller. Better yet, I'm not taking pills or herbs, using a fad diet, or doing anything bizarre that might cause short-term weight loss. I'm doing nothing that I can't continue for the rest of my life!

I am profoundly grateful that I found OA, and I'm indebted to the countless OA members who have given me the benefit of their strength and experience. -- ANONYMOUS

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Your eloquent letter is sure to inspire others who suffer from compulsive eating and are unaware that help is available. Overeaters Anonymous has more than 10,000 groups in 50 countries. Local chapters can be found in the telephone directory.

There are no dues or fees, and no membership lists are kept. There are no requirements for membership except the desire to stop eating compulsively. You will be welcomed with open arms by women and men who are fighting the same battle as you. There is no shaming, no weighing and no embarrassment, only a fellowship of compassionate people with a common problem.

There are chapters in almost every city, but if you have difficulty finding one near you, send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope to Overeaters Anonymous World Service Office, P.O. Box 44020, Rio Rancho, N.M. 87174-4020.

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