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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a compulsive overeater. After years of struggle, I have found relief in Overeaters Anonymous. On Jan. 23, I celebrated one year of abstinence.

Having just gone through my first holiday season without using food to medicate my feelings, I'm acutely aware of the many ways well-meaning friends and relatives made things more difficult. I was presented with several gifts of home-baked sweets. The givers acknowledged my eating problems by saying, "I know you can't have any of this, but ..."

Abby, I know I am responsible for what I eat and I can depend on my Higher Power to help me through unavoidable temptations. But if my family and friends really understood that giving certain foods to a compulsive overeater is like handing a bottle of liquor to an alcoholic, maybe they would be more careful about what they choose to give. A meaningful card would have been much more appreciated.

I assume that some of them gave sweets because they feel sorry for my kids or husband. My family is free to have sweets away from home, and they do occasionally. Actually, they have all commented how little they miss sweets -- they're much happier with their new, healthier, happier mom and wife than they were with me when sweets were readily available.

I have learned to consume most foods in moderation, but based on my past experience, I know there are certain foods I simply cannot touch. Sweet foods happen to be my personal binge foods. To eat just one bite could lead to a relapse. I am not willing to take that risk, and I'm sure that others who care about me wouldn't want me to.

Abby, I was able to move those "treats" out of the house quickly, but I wish my friends and family would do me a favor by selecting nonedible gifts. -- THANKS BUT NO THANKS IN ARIZONA

DEAR THANKS BUT NO THANKS: Whatever the motive of the friends and relatives who presented you with gifts of home-baked sweets over the holidays, the term for it is "sabotage." And you are correct in your assessment that it's on a par with offering a drink to an alcoholic -- or a cigarette to someone who has recently quit smoking.

Now you know that when you're in the company of these people, you will have to be on guard. I wish you the best of luck with your program. You're on the right track, and I congratulate you.

Readers, if you need Overeaters Anonymous, look in your telephone directory, or for general information and meeting locations, send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope to: OA World Service Office, P.O. Box 44020, Rio Rancho, N.M. 87174-4020.

DEAR ABBY: On the last leg of a 6,100-mile trip out west, my husband and I stopped for breakfast at a restaurant in Kentucky.

Instead of presenting us with our check, the waitress said our bill had been taken care of -- but she was not to tell us by whom.

What a nice gesture, but why us? -- PUZZLED AND THANKFUL IN CINCY

P.S. The only explanation we can think of is that someone must have overheard my husband say to me, "How are we going to pay for this?" -- meaning cash or credit card.

DEAR PUZZLED: Perhaps it was your lucky day. Enjoy the warm memory.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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