THIS month, I join millions of my fellow Americans in what has become a mid-winter tradition that is as predictable as snowfall in Maine.
It may be football playoff season, it may be presidential primary season, but I'm willing to bet more people participate in this activity then all the punts and pundits rolled into one.
I speak, of course, of dieting.
This column has complained loudly in the past about people who gobble up double cheeseburgers by the bagful and then sue McDonald's because they packed on an extra 100 pounds.
And this column has insisted that personal responsibility is the true path to dietary health.
This column doesn't always practice what it preaches.
While I haven't fallen into the grotesquely obese category yet, it wouldn't hurt me to drop 20 pounds, to use a nice round figure which also describes my current body configuration.
I don't suppose it does much good to blame your weight gain on outside forces.
But what the hell, I'll do it anyway.
Reason No. 1: Tailgating. We have been UCLA football season ticket holders at the Rose Bowl for 25 years. It used to be a hot dog and a beer before a game. But tailgating has taken on all the trappings of a cordon bleu competition. Now, it's a salad course, a main course with side dishes, a dessert course all accompanied by three kinds of wine.
Then there's a post-game dinner, which, considering the performance of the UCLA football team
over the last few years, involves lots of comfort food.
Reason No. 2: Thanksgiving. Somebody told me that turkey is good for you. So I eat lots of it. So do most of my friends. Which brings up an interesting point.
According to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.
The researchers reported that people were most likely to become obese when a friend became obese. That increased a person's chances of becoming obese by 57 percent. It did not even matter if the friend was hundreds of miles away, the influence remained. And the greatest influence of all was between close mutual friends. There, if one became obese, the other had a 171 percent increased chance of becoming obese, too.
Clearly, I need more skinny friends.
Reason No. 3: By the time we get to Christmas, we're in capitulation mode. Any thoughts of dietary sanity are postponed until after Jan. 1. After all, isn't that why we have New Year's resolutions?
I did read one helpful hint about how to survive holiday feasting:
Simply tie a piece of string around your waist before the meal - under your clothes. It shouldn't be too tight. You should be able to get a fist between it and you. When it starts to draw blood, you should probably stop eating.
Reason No. 4: I love to eat. I also believe that if you eat something and no one sees you eat it, it has no calories.
So how to drop a few pounds?
Well, there's the Evo Diet. As part of an experiment for BBC-TV, a group of volunteers set up a tent in a zoo - and ate like the apes for 12 days. A nutritionist devised a "three-day rotating menu of fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey."
The results were impressive: Cholesterol dropped an average of 23 percent. Blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 to 122/76. An unintended side effect was weight loss: 9.7 pounds.
The bad news is that you have an unsaitable desire to live in a tee.
Then there's the cabbage soup diet, the chocolate diet, the lemonade diet, the chicken soup diet and the Russian air force diet (guaranteed to help you lose the Cold War), all of which can be found on the Internet.
You've got to be careful, however. Prolonged dieting can lead to depression, reduced sex drive, fatigue, irritability, sinus problems, muscle atrophy and bloodshot eyes. Come to think of it, you can develop those same symptoms with prolonged exposure to journalism.
On second thought, I think I'll just exercise more and eat less, secure in the knowledge that the National Institutes of Health says that the commonly recommended program of reduced caloric intake along with increased physical activity has a long-term failure rate of 90-95percent.
Or, as Jackie Gleason once said: "The second day of a diet is always easier than the first. By the second day, you're off it."