About this time of year, the line at Weight Watchers runs all the way down the corridor, and the slick salesfolk at health clubs are rubbing their hands with glee as they rattle the tissue paper on the new contracts in triplicate. In the mornings, armies of joggers in new suits appear just as the stars fade, huffing and puffing and ultimately deciding to walk. Even people who don't join things are looking at each other and saying, as we do at our house, "I'll never eat again."

This is hogwash. Of course we will eat again, in about two hours. The question is, what? If someone did a study of how people eat differently in January than they do in December, I'll bet the results would be interesting. In December they eat chocolate, in January it's celery. In December they drink eggnog, in January it's skim milk. Let us pause here for a moment to reflect on the wonderful fact that both our bodies and our spirits crave leaner provisions in January; then let's go on a diet.

Oh, dreadful word. Let's not make it dreadful. Let's just cook things that are lower in carbohydrates and fats and see if we don't all feel better in a few weeks.

It is definitely true that everything under the sun tastes better with butter all over it, but forget that. Let's remember instead that lots of other things taste wonderful -- tomatoes, for example. Garlic. Fish. Fruit. Vegetables of all sorts. Nothing much is new in the world of weight loss, except that the government has recently told us again that butter and beef are bad guys, and last year, you'll recall, they told us that we can do with a lot less protein.

So the wise cook this year is thinking about lots of vegetables, a little margarine, a little grain (whole wheat, it is hoped). The new thinking for the modern lo-cal cook is not meat garnished with vegetables in the old American-agrarian style, but vegetables garnished with protein -- bits of fish, chips of chicken, shreds of cheese -- in the Oriental style. Not to put too Pollyanna-ish a face on this, but that idea opens up lots of possibilities.

Another idea to keep in mind is that while crudite's have their place -- lunch boxes, hors d'oeuvres and panic snacks in the refrigerator -- they are mighty tiring as a staple. Go ahead, cook vegetables. It's not hard. They feel less like deprivation.

Diets are more successful when longer-lived and more longer-lived when pleasant. Don't eat things you don't like. If you don't like cottage cheese and grapefruit, eat muenster cheese and oranges. Why torture yourself unnecessarily?

Try taking the emphasis off eating and put it on drinking. Invest in no-cal things to drink. If you hate your tap water, buy a bottle of exotic water and drink six to eight glasses of it out of an exotic iced glass every day. Try different kinds of herbal teas. Try diet tonic with lemon. (In a moment of virtue last summer, I discovered this tastes a great deal like a gin and tonic.) Drink hot bouillon and pretend you're on a luxury liner. All this fussing around will keep your hands busy and your stomach full.

If you like to cook, make a fetish of diet cookery. Reproduce sauces without fats. Serve long, glamorous spare meals -- clear soup with flecks of scallion, lettuce hearts with buttermilk dressing, something on a skewer with a tablespoon of interesting rice, a baked apple or a fruit salad, gallons of ice water in a gorgeous pitcher, and black coffee or decaf afterwards.

Of course we all know what to do, the problem is getting ourselves to do it. I can't help you there. Well, maybe just a little bit. People who are really, really successful at dieting have one thing in common: They don't hate it. ANYTIME VEGETABLE SOUP 46-ounce can tomato juice 46 ounces water 6 envelopes beef bouillon 1 celery stick, cut up 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms 2 cups shredded cabbage 3 zucchini, sliced 1 cup green beans 4 carrots, peeled and chunked 1 onion, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a large pot, cover and cook until vegetables are tender. Season to taste. Improves with age. GREEN BEANS NICOISE (2 servings) 4 cups fresh green beans Salt 1 small onion, minced 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons wine vinegar Fresh ground pepper to taste 4 ounces flaked white tuna packed in water 2 tablespoons grated parmesan

Snap ends off the beans and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and toss with onion, oil, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Chill. Toss again before serving. Split between 2 plates, garnish each serving with half the tuna and half the parmesan. Serve with a light interesting bread like pita or garlic melba rounds. SKINNY CREAMY SALAD DRESSING (2 servings) 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1 cup buttermilk 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 tablespoon vinegar Pepper, salt, and paprika to taste

Put everything in a blender and pure'e, chill before using. CHICKEN PAPRIKA (4 servings) 2 whole medium chicken breasts, split and skinned 2 tablespoons margarine 1 small onion, thinly sliced 3/4 cup tomato juice 1 tablespoon paprika 1/4 teaspoon salt Dash pepper 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/2 cup plain yogurt 1 1/3 cups hot cooked noodles

In skillet, over medium heat, brown chicken in margarine about 15 minutes. Remove chicken and drain on paper toweling. Add onion to skillet, cook until tender. Drain. Stir tomato juice, paprika, salt and pepper into skillet with onions. Add chicken. Cover; simmer for 35 to 40 minutes until tender. Remove chicken to platter and keep warm. Skim fat from pan juices. Stir cornstarch into yogurt. Stir 1/2 cup pan juices into yogurt mixture; return all to skillet. Cook and stir till thickened; do not boil. Serve chicken and sauce over noodles. From "Calorie Trimmed Recipes", Better Homes and Gardens SCALLOP KABABS (4 servings) 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard 1 pound fresh scallops 12 cherry tomatoes 2 medium onions, quartered

In a glass dish, combine oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger and mustard. Marinate scallops at room temperature for an hour, covered. On 8 skewers, alternate scallops, tomatoes and onion quarters. Broil 5 inches from heat for 7 minutes on each side, basting with marinade as you turn. FRUIT SALAD CASSIS (6 servings) 1/2 cup orange juice 1/4 cup cassis 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup melon balls 1 fresh peach, sliced 1 fresh pear, sliced 1 large banana, sliced

Combine the juice, cassis and lemon juice. Pour over the cut up fruits in a bowl, toss, cover and chill.