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DEAR ABBY: I do not typically write to advice columnists, but the plea from the 16-year-old from Santa Rosa, who asked how to help her friend who has an eating disorder, touched me. I was in a similar situation -- my friend was anorexic. I, too, was afraid of betraying her, but my fear for her life finally overrode that.

Sobbing, I called her parents and talked with her mother. My friend was furious and refused to speak to me for a long time. I felt guilty for revealing her secret.

Her parents thanked me and saw that she got much-needed help. Today she is healthy, happily married and has children of her own. And we are friends again.

I want that young lady to know that it's OK -- even if it feels wrong -- to tell the truth, to ask for help, and yes, to betray a trust if it's a matter of life and death. Bulimia, and any other eating disorder, falls into that category. -- STILL FRIENDS IN WISCONSIN

DEAR STILL FRIENDS: Bless you for wanting to support her. Her letter brought a flood of mail about the danger of eating disorders. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I just saw the letter from the 16-year-old girl with the bulimic friend. Yes, PLEASE tell someone! One of my best friends in high school was the same way. I had many opportunities to tell teachers or her mom, but I didn't. She committed suicide in her parents' garage during our sophomore year in college. Had I "betrayed" her in high school, perhaps she would have gotten the professional help she needed and she'd be with us today. She was beautiful and talented. I will always miss her. -- KATHY IN COLORADO

DEAR KATHY: Please do not blame yourself. Years ago, people did not recognize the seriousness of eating disorders.

DEAR ABBY: The daughter of some close friends has anorexia. Her friends, including her boyfriend, intervened and told her that if she did not tell her parents, they would. The girl took them seriously. She went to her high school social worker and her parents were called in.

The parents handled it wonderfully. They got their daughter medical and psychological help -- not only for her, but also for the entire family.

A true friend must tell, regardless of the possible consequences. It beats the alternative, which can be death. -- ANONYMOUS IN MINNESOTA

DEAR ANONYMOUS: Thank you for pointing out that an eating disorder can be a FAMILY problem.

DEAR ABBY: My 16-year-old niece took her life. After the funeral, two of her closest friends told my sister that my niece had been bulimic for nine months preceding her death.

Eating disorders should be taken seriously, as there are reasons behind them that have nothing to do with food. A person who is bulimic -- or has "episodes" of purging -- is in serious danger and may be depressed or even suicidal. -- SURVIVOR OF A LOVED ONE'S SUICIDE IN NEW YORK

DEAR SURVIVOR: Please accept my sympathy for your loss. Thank you for wanting to warn others.

DEAR ABBY: Your advice was right on. The friend must tell. There is no time to waste. I know from personal experience. I am bulimic, and have been since I was 15. I am now 33 and struggle every day. I only wish someone had helped me when I needed it. The longer you wait, the harder it is to control. She will be saving her friend's life, because in the long run, the life of a bulimic is no life at all. -- ANONYMOUS, GRANTS PASS, ORE.

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