Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Compulsive Eating Can Be Matter of Life and Death

DEAR ABBY: I read with great empathy the series of letters that began with "Frustrated Wife," who was overweight and whose husband had moved to another bedroom.

"Cindy in Arizona" wrote, "If he really loved his wife he would urge her to go to counseling with him and go to a diet clinic with her, where he could learn to support her needs." Then "Rebecca in New Orleans" wrote, "The husband was not justified in withholding sex." You replied with some realistic points about obesity as an important health issue.

On Sept. 1, 2000, my wife of 20 years died in her sleep of a fatal arrhythmia. "Reba" was 49 years old, the doting mother of two teen-aged boys, and possibly as much as 150 pounds overweight. It was something she battled all her life, and it eventually killed her.

Compulsive eating is an insidious and complex problem, and any family member living with a compulsive eater deserves the benefit of the doubt. Through the years, I tried to support Reba through many diets, exercise programs, support groups and counselors. The end result was that I was failing along with her and getting sucked into her illness. I also lost all trust in her.

Four years of Al-Anon taught me to detach myself from the sickness while loving my wife. It also taught me to stand up for myself in certain areas. Joining Al-Anon may be the best thing "Frustrated Wife's" husband can do for himself and for her.

Of course, no one is justified in withholding sex. However, no one should feel compelled to have sex, either. There were times when I simply couldn't do it, and I'm not going to apologize to anyone for it. Reba was a wonderful woman, but I had to learn all over again to be attracted to her. We were lucky in that the bonds of our relationship went deeper than most. But I'm not going to judge anyone whose marriage may not have as much going for it as ours did.

I wish I had some answers for the problem of compulsive eating. Reba worked hard to accept herself as a good person, regardless of her weight. But she resisted taking the next step, which would have been treating her obesity as a health issue. Possibly, she simply wasn't ready to and ran out of time. However, it doesn't change the end result: two motherless children and a bewildered husband who can't quite comprehend what has happened to his life and who still halfway expects her to come home one day.

So, please keep preaching, Abby. This is not a matter of learning fat acceptance -- it's a matter of life and death. -- DWIGHT IN WYOMING

DEAR DWIGHT: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the untimely loss of your beloved wife. Since that series of letters ran, you wouldn't believe the irate letters I have received from people who felt I had personally insulted or ridiculed them. Your letter illustrates the importance of taking care of our health.

Sometimes the problem isn't so much what we're eating as what's eating us. I hope the people who read this will realize it was written because I care about them.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Forgiveness is freeing -- for yourself as well as for others. It frees you from carrying the burden of past resentments. It allows you to release the past so that all your energy can be fully available for the present. Forgiveness is the ultimate gift you can give yourself. (Author unknown)

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600