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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 15 years old and 20 pounds overweight. Like overweight teens everywhere, I have experienced a lot of rejection. For the past two years, I have tried to slim down my waist and lose the unwanted fat. I have tried walking for exercise, but it's not easy when you don't have someone to keep you company.

It's hard to stay away from junk food when it's always in my house and being offered to me. I don't have strong willpower, and the determination I once had has almost completely left me. I feel like a failure.

Can you help me, Abby? -- ALMOST HOPELESS

DEAR ALMOST HOPELESS: Losing weight and becoming fit are admirable goals. This is not just about determination and/or willpower. Your strongest ally is education. Ask your doctor for help in learning HOW to eat, not just how much. Ask a counselor at school if there are nutrition classes available, or find some books on your own that teach you how to eat properly.

Find a "buddy" who is as committed as you are to changing your eating habits. Exercise together. Don't look at this as "dieting," but as adopting a new way of eating and exercising that improves your health and appearance. Good luck.

DEAR ABBY: I'm getting married in October, and there is an issue my fiance and I cannot seem to resolve. Our mothers are pulling us in opposite directions.

My mother wants us to open our wedding gifts at the reception. His mother thinks it would be "tacky." My fiance feels it would be a waste of time at the reception, and agrees with his mother that the gifts should be opened the next day at a brunch for the families.

Abby, I come from a very large family. Many of my aunts, uncles and cousins will be traveling long distances to attend our wedding. Most of them have expressed a desire to see us open the gifts, but not all of them would be able to stay another day just for that.

My mother has allowed us to make the decisions on everything else, but she insists that the gifts be opened at the wedding reception. What is the socially correct procedure? -- BRIDE IN OREGON

DEAR BRIDE: Traditionally, gifts are not opened at the reception. It is usually inconvenient for the couple. Even when the reception is small and informal, there is seldom time to open presents and express appropriate gratitude.

If gifts are brought to the wedding and/or reception, the bride and groom should thank the donor and hand the packages to someone assigned to put them in a safe place. This is the only way to avoid losing the card or breaking or losing the gift in the excitement of the festivities.

A brunch the following day, during which the families can see you open the gifts, is a good idea. Consider videotaping the brunch for those who must return home immediately following the reception.

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Phil in Oregon," the man who wrote about his embarrassing habit. Please let him know there is nothing wrong with sucking your thumb!

I am a college-educated 23-year-old woman who has been sucking my thumb ever since I was one day old. I don't think Phil should be embarrassed about his habit. He should accept it.

Sucking your thumb is not bad. Some people, like myself, find thumb-sucking relaxing, especially before going to sleep. (It's better than drinking alcohol, or doing drugs to relax.)

My friends and even my boyfriend (who has been with me for over four years) all know of my thumb-sucking habit, and they don't mind. -- J.K.C. IN LONG ISLAND

DEAR J.K.C.: Phil will undoubtedly be grateful for your supportive letter. Although it's rarely publicized, I'm sure there are many adult thumb-suckers. Have you thought of starting a support group? (I can see it now: www.thumbsup!.org.)

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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