I found it.

And then, I lost it.

On March 2, 1977, I weighed in at the Behavorial Weight Control Program Center in Rockville at 290 porky pounds. The other morning, according to my bathroom scale, I was 210.

Those 80 pounds have come off at the rate of 2 1/2 pounds per week. Some weeks it was more - a 5-pound loss in one heavenly seven-day period - and occasionally the loss has been a teenytiny trace. But the scale never, repeat never, went up.

I did it without starving or swilling that gawdawful liquid glop protein. I did it without amphetamines, water, grapefruit juice, Ayds or Weight Watchers.

I am still losing it, and probably will have to remain on the same basic program I have followed these last six months for the rest of my life, even after I reach my goal. By Jan. 1, I hope to have 180 pounds on my 6-foot frame.

I have lost it mostly with the help of Perry Levine, himself a former fatty who dropped 60 pounds almost the same way I have done it. More important, he has kept it off. Hopefully, so will I.

To this day, I'm not really certain what made me finally go for help. For the past 10 years - ever since I stopped playing baseball in college - my weight had ballooned from a chunky 210 to a high of 304.

Once, three years ago, I had dieted down from my all-time high to 260, only to give up and climb back toward that dangerous 300-plus level that scared the bejabbers out of me.

And yet, I had no control of my eating habits. I ate when I wanted to eat, whatever I wanted to eat. And always I rationalized. I also kept telling myself I was one of those people who could never get of skinny, even though numerous medical tests indicated that my lard was simply a result of a lifetime of of overeating.

This newspaper ran a series of articles on obesity last winter that gave me he first shove off my fat rear end. I still recall the shiver of fear as I read about the 450-pound woman with the 50-pound breasts and the overworked lungs. That will be you in five years, I told myself.

I also turned 30 last February, and suddenly began to wonder if I would make 60. At 290 pounds, the odds were very much against it.

And so, the same day I spotted the newspaper advertisement - "Losing Weight Doesn't Make Sense If You Gain It Back" - I dialed the number and made an appointment at the clinic.

Two days later, I met Levine. He is 39, a layman who developed his program when he lost 60 pounds. For the last year, he has been trying to make a living teaching many of the same techniques.

"When I was losing weight," he said, "I really didn't know what I was doing. I had gone through all the other diets, Weight Watchers, and it never helped. So I just read everything I could on the subject, and worked out my own program."

Levine is a businessman, make no mistake about it. The first hour-long session set me back $35, and each weekly session thereafter runs $12.50. But 80 pounds later, I consider it a small price for the years I believe he has added to my life.

That first session was one-on-one. After my first weigh-in, I gave Levine my life history - chubby childhood right on through full-scale adult obesity. It was a litany of binging, crash diets, more binging, more diets and always more pounds.

Through it all, Levine simply asked questions. There were no sermons, no threats, and only one promise. "Follow this program," he said, "and you will lose weight."

"It's up to you. I've been there myself. I know what you'll go through, and I'll be there whenever you need me. I'm not going to tell you it's easy, because it's not. You have to make some sacrifices. I can't offer any miracles."

And then he gave me the grabber, something I think about all the time, to this day.

"I can also tell you," Levine said, looking me straight in the eye, "that fat people are supposed to be quitters. I personally don't believe that. But if you quit this program, it's just going to get worse."

And so, he had me.

That first day, Levine gave me the basic tenets of his program.

The average semi-active person, Levine explained, will maintain his or her weight by eating 10 calories per day for every pound on the scale. At 290 pounds, I could eat as much as 2,900 calories and not gain an once.

One pound of fat also equal 3,500 calories, he went on. But cutting out 500 calories per day for a full week, I could lose a pound. And so, he set a target figure for me of 1,800 calories a day. At that rate, he said, I would lose 2 pounds a week.

Eventually, as my weight came down, I would probably have to readjust my calorie intake. But for now, 1,800 a day would suffice.

My instructions that first week also included some rather detailed record-keeping, an integral part of the program.

I was supposed to write down every piece of food I consumed. On a preprinted sheet, I was also to checked off the duration of each "eating event," the place of eating (kitchen, car, theater); whether I was sitting, standing or lying down; if I was alone, with friends or business associates; whether I ate watching television of course, didn't everyone?); what my mood was and my degree of hunger on a scale of one (not hungry) to five (ravenous).

I was also told to purchase a calorie book, though I was specifically instructed not to keep a record of the calories that first week, only the food I ate.

"I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is," Levine said. "But nobody said this was easy, and I think you'll see the value of it next week."

He was right. Despite his instructions. I ded count the calories, and as I look back on that first set of records, I am amazed.

Even though I felt I had cut back, I was still averaging 2,500 calories a day. I ate in every conceivable place, at every conceivable house, and always at the same stuff-it-in, snarf-it-down pace. In seven days, I had 38 seaprate eating events - more than five a day. I was always hungry. And I also lost 3 pounds. Incredible.

The following week. I attended my first group meeting. There were eight of us, ranging from very fat (me) to one woman who was downright slender. Little Miss Slim said she had lost 40 pounds the previous three months, and was now attending the sessions to learn how to maintain that loss.

When my turn came. Levine gave me a series of target behaviors to follow. I was to try and eat slowly, a major problem because most of my meals lasted no longer that 10 minutes.

I was also told to eat in the same place, either the kitchen or dining room, to avoid eating while watching television (another major problem), and always to eat while sitting down. No more refrigerator raids or closet snacks.

The purpose of these techniques was obvious. If you concentrate on eating only, on savoring the food and making eating an almost sensual experience the chances are excellent that you will eat less and satisfy your appetite in one sitting.

And, of course, I was told to begin counting calories.

And that is precisely what I have been doing ever since. Every bite has been duly recorded in print, and every day I put together my jigsaw puzzle of food to reach the proper calorie count. If I go over the limit one day, I simply cut back the next.

If I am going to a cocktail party, I eat a light lunch and save the calories for the stuffed shrimp and canapes.

I can consume my 1,800 calories a day in whatever form I choose, be it chocolate cake or cottage cheese. I also weigh myself every morning, despite all those warnings from doctors who insisted on weighing once a week to avoid discouragement early on.

The weekly sessions with Levine and Co. also are critical. Levine offers suggestions to combat particular problems, and so do the other members of the group. There are frank, open discussions, private weigh-ins, and no moralizing.

I have taken great pains - in the knees, the feet, and the thighs - to add another dimension to my own program. I have drastically increased my activity level. I park my car in a garage four blocks from work and walk back and forth. I make it a point to climb stairs. I have given up electric golf carts for a bag-on-the-shoulder 18-hole walk.

And I have been jogging at least two miles a day since early June. I started slowly at first, running until I was tired, then walking, followed by more running.

All of this is not to say that the process has been crisis free.

Two weeks after I started the program, I went on the road to cover several basketbll and hockey games. It was an open invitation for a week-long binge of expense account meals in fancy restaurants. I did get to several fine spots along the way, armed with my calorie book. Even without the bread, the booze and the butter, my calorie counts were higher than usual, about 2,500 a day. And yet, at my next weekly meeting. I had lost a pound.

Passover and my mother's kitchen provided the next temptation. Again, despite heaping platters of gefulte fish, matzoh balls and potato knishes, I escaped that week with a 2-pound loss.

I have gone from size 48 tents to 38-inch pants.

I have stopped shopping in clothing stores claiming to eater to "the high and the mighty" (ie. fat) and gone bananas in the men's departments of my favorite department stores. At 290 pounds, the only items I could buy were Rooster ties and black socks.

I feel healthy, I no longer avoid mirrors. I like to have my picture taken. I have seat room on airplanes. I take up less space in the press box. And George Allen even told me he was proud of me. Then he closed practice.

Levine' program, I must say, has been a veritable piece of cake.And if you're counting, that's 300 calories for a 3-ounce slice.