T wenty-six pounds. The Bobster is minus 26 pounds.

As many as a serious Thanksgiving turkey. More than a bowling ball, more than an unabridged dictionary. Considerably more than one-tenth of my previous body weight.

Gone. Lost. Out of my life. Unmourned. And (he said hopefully) never coming back.

One year ago, I embarked on a diet and general fitness plan for the first time in my life. I did it because I was facing what a lot of hard-toiling, time-lacking Washington worker bees will recognize: bracket creep.

I was doing everything right, but I was still gaining an average of a pound and a half a year.

I exercised vigorously every day. I avoided "stupid calories." I drank alcohol very sparingly. I never binged on cookies or cake. And yet, at each annual physical, the doctor would somberly change the last digit of my weight from a 3 to a 5, from a 5 to a 7.

Slowly, I had reached the point where I outweighed most of the starting middle linebackers in the National Football League. I was eating all the right stuff, but my portions could have fed two or three.

So, on April 7, 2002, I took a deep breath and vowed to save my own life.

It seems to have worked. I lost 28 pounds in the first six months -- a revelation and a pleasure. I regained two of those 28 in the next six months -- a frustration and a puzzle.

Still, my suit size remains smaller by two. My cholesterol readings are down sharply. My cries of "I'm hungry all the time" have petered out to occasional whines. My stamina is up, and my need for naps is way, way down.

I feel a lot better. I'm told I look better. If I haven't added years to my life, I've at least avoided subtracting any.

With 365 days of perspective, I devote today's column to the lessons I've learned. If you'd like to adopt any or all of them, the price is right.

* Keep it simple. My diet approach has been: Eat less and exercise more. Period. You don't need to fancy-dan it any more than that. Do just one of these, and you might lose a little. Do both, and you will prove what you always knew: It's a straightforward matter of calories in and calories out.

* Stay busy. If you tempt yourself toward ice cream barrages because you don't have a book to read or a friend to call, plan ahead. Buy a book three days before you'll want it. Make a date to make a call. Be sure you have green apples, not Danish pastry, in the house. It's amazing how often the munchies hit when boredom does. You'll never lose an ounce if you use food to "fill space."

* Eat small and often. Where is it written that you must eat something called breakfast, something called lunch and then something called dinner? You will probably eat fewer calories if you take a day's worth and slice them into six mini-meals. Try cereal, fruit and juice at breakfast, another piece of fruit at mid-morning, a sandwich and a salad at lunch, a pick-me-up soup at 4 p.m., a piece of simply grilled fish and a little pasta at 6:30 p.m. and another salad at 10:30. That's well below 1,800 calories, which is the number that most dieters who are male and six feet tall will need to try to hit.

* Vary your exercise patterns. When I began on 4/7/2002, I was sure that riding my stationary bike every morning was no more and no less useful than any other form of exercise. Wrong! Your body needs to be "shocked" every once in a while. It needs to use different muscles in different ways. One of the reasons I lost so many pounds so soon was that I left the bike alone and turned to stair-walking and weightlifting. I suspect that I've "plateaued" because I've returned to bike-riding and speed-walking only. Don't be smug or let your muscles get smug. This is a constant battle. It needs constant changes in strategy.

* Understand that this is a lifelong commitment. If you diet for three months, lose a few pounds and then resume your old ways, you will yo-yo right back up to the level you left. If you'd like to avoid this, stop thinking of a diet as some form of temporary denial. It is a permanent change in your life at a very fundamental level. You will need to avoid pound cake at the 7-Eleven. But you also will need to avoid it when your delightful Aunt Minnie offers you some at Easter -- every Easter. Stout backbones get diets done. Less stout backbones get overrun.

* Be extra careful when you're on the road. Again, planning makes all the difference. Try eating fruit, celery or three carrots before you go to a business dinner. If you're a "top off the tank" bedtime snacker, be sure that the right kinds of foods are within reach. If that means sculpting out five minutes to visit a grocery store or convenience store, make sure that gets done. There's nothing more demoralizing or destructive than being super-careful all day long -- and then gorging out of the goodie bar in a hotel room.

* Getting past that first spasm. I developed the Bob Levey 10-Minute Rule. I would never reach for food the first time I felt a hunger pang. I'd make myself wait 10 minutes. Very often, I'd realize that three hours had passed and I hadn't died of starvation. The 10-Minute Rule will get you past midday temptation like nothing else.

* Don't give up. Early in my first-year-of-the-rest- of-my-life, I was invited to a business dinner. I ate some stuff I "shoonta," as we used to say in the Bronx. The next day, I made sure I made do with less. Pure determination will get you there, especially after you've sinned.

* Take pride in what you've done. On April 7, 2002, I found a copy of a children's book that our kids loved. It's called "The Little Engine That Could." I thumbed to the appropriate page and chanted: "I think I can, I think I can. . . . " Tonight, I'll find the appropriate page and chant: "I thought I could, I thought I could."