Mental health practitioners know that the "presenting" problem -- the one for which the client comes for help -- usually is not the basic problem.

This applies to physical problems like being overweight just as it does to psychological ones. What is the basic problem underlying the habit of overeating? It could be some deep, dark, repressed secret, but more likely it is not. Indeed, for many overweight people, the basic problem may simply be that eating is their main or only source of euphoria.

Euphoria, says Webster, is "an often unaccountable feeling of well-being or elation." The opposite of euphoria is dysphoria, which is "a state of feeling unwell or unhappy." More than half the people with problems seen by mental health professionals suffer some form of depression -- another word for dysphoria.

Probably no one has sought professional help voluntarily for euphoria. Persons may be brought to professionals for such a "problem" by a relative or friend who fears they may be suffering from some form of mania or manic-depression -- extreme mood swings. Similarly, it is hard to get overweight people to come for psychological help because they already know how to attain euphoria -- from eating to an extent that is deleterious to their health. And even when they become aware of this fact, it is hard for them to give up eating as a means of achieving euphoria.

When persons become depressed, they lapse into a state of low energy during which they usually can tune out sensory stimulation or thoughts that might make them feel tense or energized. They characteristically lack novelty and excitement in their life.

However, persons who become euphoric usually do so by seeking out tensions -- with the assurance from past experience that they will be able to reach a peak of tension and then relax. The earliest source of euphoria in humans is being hungry, crying for food and then relaxing as one is fed.

Why do some of us habitually resort primarily to eating in order to achieve euphoria? The answer may be that, in times of crisis or extreme tension, most of us revert to our earliest successful means of relieving tension unless we have learned other, at least equally effective, ways. In the case of the hunger-overeating phenomenon, we have a very powerful source of tension buildup and reduction -- one that is accompanied by other phenomena, such as sights, smells and images of food. Each of these alone is capable of triggering pangs of hunger.

For eating to take its place as just one of many habitual sources of euphoria, a person must: *Learn how to become muscularly tense at will and not just wait for hunger pangs.*Find dependable ways of dissipating such tension other than by eating. *Carry out a sequence of muscular tension and relaxation on a daily basis.

Perhaps the simplest means of reducing tension is the one which Dr. Herbert Benson has labeled the "relaxation response." It can be taught in as little as five minutes.

In addition to learning relaxation techniques, habitual overeaters and people who suffer from other addictions such as alcoholism, drug abuse and compulsive gambling need to find other, healthy sources of euphoria. In all of these addictions, the key to cure is to offer that person an array of other possible sources which are equally powerful, socially acceptable and not harmful.

Persons who eat, drink, gamble, etc. for euphoria probably do so because they are starved for affection, exercise, sexual union or other pleasures.

What if all easily learned, socially acceptable and healthy means of achieving euphoria cannot compete with overeating or some other unhealthy addiction? Dr. Daniel Casriel, a trained psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, discovered that as drug addicts in psychotherapy groups began to trust each other, they also began to share their life stories. As group members overcame enough of their fear of rejection to tell their story, they experienced a sense of emotional openness and oneness with other group members, something many of them had not known since infancy. This experience led to a type of euphoria that helped eliminate their need for drugs.

Dr. Casriel modified this program and called it the New Identity Process and the experience of being emotionally open as well as physically close, or bonding -- a term previously reserved for the attachment that usually develops immediately after birth between a nursing mother and her child.

For addicted people to develop emotional openness, they need a place where group members can be assured of privacy, enough time to develop mutual trust among the group's members and their leaders and assurance that such trust will not be abused.

For persons familiar with the activities of Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous groups, this may seem familiar. However, it is neither the strict adherence to a diet found in most weight control groups nor the swearing off of drugs or alcohol found in most abuse groups that accounts for the successes. Rather, it is the discovery and sharing of long-forgotten positive emotions (euphoria) which are equal to or even better than those to be gotten from any form of substance abuse -- including overeating.:000800000074

Winter's here, bringing low temperatures and freezing cold winds. When you walk to school in the morning, you bundle yourself up and walk fast to stay warm. On weekends, you have to talk yourself into getting outdoors to play. But if you stay inside all day, you may start feeling cranky. People who live in the north, where it's very cold for a long time, call this winter feeling "cabin fever." It's the feeling we all experience when we've been cooped up too long in one place.

But there are lots of "cures" for cabin fever. For people who live in very cold places, ice skating is a favorite winter activity. Skating is a strenuous sport that uses most of the major muscles in the body, especially the legs. Skating increases circulation, and strengthens the heart.

For many kids who grow up in places like Vermont or Wisconsin, ice skating is as natural as walking. They get out on the ice when they're really little, and quickly become accomplished skaters. In the Washington area, it may take more effort to learn how to be a great skater. It rarely gets cold enough to freeze ponds and streams solid enough for safe skating here. Occasionally it gets cold enough to freeze the reflecting pools down on the Mall in Washington, and people go skating there. Check with the Park Service before trying it, though.

Many skaters in Washington get their winter exercise at a rink the Park Service runs downtown. There are other rinks in the area, too. Check the Yellow Pages to see if there's a skating rink near you.

People have been ice skating for centuries. There are old paintings in the National Gallery of Art in Washington that show skaters on the canals of Holland. The Dutch are famous skaters; they used wooden skates with iron runners as long ago as the 1200s. Before that, historians think, people may have made skates out of pieces of polished animal bones that they attached to their feet with leather thongs.

Today, you can get equipment that's much easier to use than a curved piece of bone. Many part-time skaters rent skates. Others own their own. For ice skating, as with any sport, using the right equipment can make the activity safer, more comfortable and more fun.

Ice skates should fit snugly. You may even end up with a skate that's one half to a whole size smaller than your regular shoes. When you try on skates, wear thin socks. Many people make the mistake of wearing thick socks for ice skating, thinking that the woolly socks will keep their feet warm. But a thick layer of socks cuts down on the amount of support skates provide. To make up for that, the skater tends to lace the boots too tightly. Lacing up too tight cuts down on the circulation of blood to the feet. The result: cold toes.

Skates that fit well help prevent another problem skaters often complain about -- weak ankles. A figure-skating boot should be made of thick, stiff leather. A good boot comes equipped with built-in support for the arch of the foot, too. Many stores also sell molded plastic figure skates; these also provide good support. Hockey boots are lower, because hockey skating style requires less ankle support than the jumps and pirouettes of figure skating do. But hockey skates should also fit snugly and be made of good quality leather or leather and nylon.

Once you've got your skates to fit your foot well, check one more thing. Are the blades sharp? Even beginning skaters will do better on the ice if their skates have sharp edges. It's a good idea to have an expert do the job; uneven, dull skates can take the fun out of this sport. Once you hit the ice, keep a few common-sense safety rules in mind. If you go skating outside, never skate alone. Always check with an adult to find out if the ice is safe. Avoid skating near vegetation that sticks up through the ice; it absorbs heat from the sun, which warms up and weakens the surrounding ice.

If someone falls through the ice, never skate up to the hole to try to pull the victim out. You could end up falling through, too. The unlucky skater should keep as calm as possible, and hold still to save body heat. Rescuers should lie fat on the ice to distribute their weight evenly. Several people can lie in a zig-zag pattern, each holding the ankles of the person in front. The person at the front of the line can hold something like a hockey stick or a pole for the victim to grasp.

Around here, it's more likely that you'll be skating in a rink. Obey the rink rules by skating in one direction only, and doing your fancy turns and jumps in the center of the ice. If you take a fall, you'll probably just slide along for a few feet. It may feels cold -- and embarrassing -- but skating tumbles rarely cause serious injuries. The smooth ice causes you to slide, reducing the impact of the fall. Just pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start over. Tips for Parents

Young Health, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, offers the following simple rules for your young skaters: Wear snug-fitting skates. Whether at a rink or outdoors, wear hats and mittens to keep warm, and to protect your hands and head in case of a fall. At a rink, skate in one direction only. Before skating outdoors, check with local authorities about the safety of the ice. Watch for sticks or other objects projecting through the ice that could cause falls. Never skate alone.