PEOPLE AND FOOD go together in our society. We break bread with our fellow man to show that we are not at war with him; a couple share their bed and board. Eating is pleasurable, natural and downright habit-forming. Well, I've broken the habit. I have gone on THE DIET. I've put the tastebuds into mothballs. It's cold turkey. Now this "Last Chance Diet" doesn't restrict your eating, doesn't cut down, taper off, control your urges, prohibit between-meal snacks. This diet says "Nothing." No food at all, no morsel that you previously would have gagged on and would have preferred to have sent to the starving Tibetans. No seconds. No thirds. For the ghastly, awful truth is that there are no firsts. No "Come for dinner." There will BE NO dinner.

The mountain of fat that I had become didn't all start when I stopped smoking two years ago, but a good deal of the suet dates from that moment. For it was from then on that I was hungry all the time. Alone and depressed, I turned to the warmth and solace of a full stomach.

I grew and I grew. Chairs on the other hand, seemed to shrink. Theater seats tended to make me too chummy with my neighbor, leather banquettes at the Chalet de la Paix seemed built dangerously close to the tables. Soon I was staying at home where I cooked non-stop feasts and soon I felt too freakish to go to a restaurant. Peoples' stares seemed to say, "Why is that fatty eating again?"

On March 21 at 3 p.m. -- throwing my last ice cream carton in the trash -- I began the fast. For four days I suffered myself to take four ounces of cherry-flavored pre-digested liquid protein, which had the revolting taste of Cheracol and stale vitamins -- which made me gag mightily. I ate nothing. I drank lots of water, nursed a growing nausea, and read and reread the not very literate bible, The Last Chance Diet, by Dr. Robert Linn. I was not consoled by what he called "minor side effects." By the end of the fourth day, I had lost nine pounds, but I was frantic with progressive nausea which threatened to become active. I finally decided that I could no longer do this on my own, and since I had demonstrated to myself that I was serious about sticking to it, I called Guru Linn and made an appointment for the very same day.

I saw the guru only once. "I'm queasy, Doc," I told him. "I've been queasy for four days and I can't stand it any more." He looked up sympathetically and asked, "Does queasy have an 'a' in it?" I nodded. After a complete physical, lots of blood-letting, and loaded with a week's supply of pills (folic acid, calcium, potassium and vitamins), and with a quart of what was labeled "New Linn Protein Formula I" (orange-flavored which really is more palatable), as well as a prescription to combat nausea, I departed lighter by $100 and encouraged by a group of toothpick-slender nurses who cheered me on to a foodless tomorrow.

The pleasant scientific M.D. to whom I switched admits that the diet is an unmitigated bore, but his interest is in obesity as a disease, and of the diet he says, "It works." Incidentally, the four ounces of collagen assigned me give me my daily ration of 240 calories. (Item: People of normal weight have about 135,000 calories of stored fat in the vat, but we lipophilics -- fatties --hoard circa 360,000 fat calories! So the danger of terminal starvation seems remote.)

This starvation period is supposed to dim your memory of food and erode all the beastly habits that made you the well-stuffed El Flabino that you are. The theory is that the pounds drop off. (Four painful pounds a week is about all you can look for after the first big drop -- two per cent of your weight.) The theory further bolds that you will forget eclairs and yearn instead for a lovely fully-packed one-half cup of string beans. Your behavior is supposed to become more rational as your figure emerges from its starchy folds.

This is not yet working for me. I don't mean the weight loss, I mean the memory. My memory is suddenly marvelous!

Lord & Taylor had a housewares sale the other day, and I looked at the toaster on the page and my mind's eye could recall with tremendous exactitude what two pieces of bread would look like in their appointed slots. And the lovely cocktail glasses actually had three divine, rosy-pink shrimps snuggling up to a lemon wedge and topped with a parsley sprig. I could have gone overboard for that sprig alone. At night I write limericks to hunger. A dieter who got into bed Moaned that she hadn't been fed.

She couldn't count sheep To get her to sleep. She dipped lobster in butter instead.

But despite this mooning over food, believe it or not, I am no longer hungry. Of course I still drool over all the rotten commercials showing a cracker burdened under the weight of lovely thick slabs of baked ham and cheddar.

Panic! One evening about two weeks ago, I suddenly couldn't stand it another second. "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, I'm hungry," I wailed. I turned Cronkite off and announced to the walls that the news of the moment and of real import was that I had to have FOOD. Just two ounces of meat, all fat removed, home-ground with garlic and fresh pepper (certainly no salt) and that will satisfy this tearing, gnawing, yearning that I have. I tried to distract myself: had a glass of water, paced the floor, twisted my hands and began to sweat.

With decision I dashed for the phone. Certainly I was not the only one who went through this kind of panic. There must be an emergency reprieve that they don't tell anyone about until the moment of starve-truth actually happens. I dialed the doc's number. I would ask. I wouldn't cheat. He would understand. His answering service didn't understand at all! He would call me back --but when? After I had joined the millions of Africans who had died of the drought and starvation? I groaned and my belly suddenly got into the act, and the rumbling and gurgling of the troops became too terrible to bear. If he doesn't call soon, the stores will be closed and I'll be stuck. I was frantic in just the same way I had been known to search in every pocket for a cigarette I had overlooked.

The phone rang and I explained to the doctor, in a controlled voice, that I was BESIDE MYSELF WITH HUNGER, that I thought that a few ounces of lean freshly ground steak with all the fat removed, was what I needed desperately, and that I would then go right back on the old diet wagon again. This wasn't asking too much. It was reasonable, intelligent, logical. THE DOCTOR SAID "NO". "Just two ounces couldn't do any harm," I begged. The doc said "No" again, and then explained in what I did not then recognize as a "soothing voice" that there were all sorts of hidden fats and that I would create a terrible nitrogen imbalance and upset the ongoing work of the ketones, and that I would destroy all that I had already accomplished. By this time I had begun to feel less frantic and I sullenly said, "All right," and to his "Have a good night," I said, "Thanks." I didn't fall from grace.

On THE DIET, one goes to sleep as early as possible in order to bring on the morning ceremony of "weighing in." It is most awfully true that the only time that you are not "caring" about the diet is when you are asleep.

The morning sun rises, as do you, joyfully -- knowing full well that Mother Scales awaits you with her poetic justice. Still in bed, but very alert, you feel your body --run your hands down the sides, sliding around the comtours. Yes, it's still there, but mushier. The realization that the problem is still with you gives you the energy to sling your legs off the bed and onto the floor. As you bend to get your slippers and you notice that the bend was a quick, even graceful movement, with no sense of effort or heave, joy once more brings Dumb Dieter alive and ready for the fray. The scale is eyed but ignored.

Bathe and be very careful to dry yourself very well Drops of water left on you each weigh something. And now, gingerly stepping on the scale, I am prepared to cheat all I can to make that scale balance toward the down side.

On May 24 I had not eaten for sixty-five days. I had lsot forty-four pounds. I was a conversation piece by then. I was waiting in line at the local Giant and the lady at the check-out counter asked me whether I had been away. She hadn't seen me for a long while. I said no, and then absentmindedly added, "I don't buy food anymore." Suddenly I realized that I must sound mad, so I explained that I was on a starvation diet and hadn't eaten in sixty days. The manager, standing close by, laughed and said, "Come on, you must be taking your business to Safeway." I lamely held up a pair of pantyhose that I had come in to buy and said, "I came in for these." Moments later, on the street, I met a friend who is always on one diet or another (and swelte as always). I asked her how she was coming along. Sharon laughed and said, "I'm back on Sara Lee." I felt smug.

I still have sixteen pounds to go, and although my fantasies bring food in color pictures to my eyes, I seem next to conjure up cake and frosting and assorted piosons. More often, I see shellfish and meat, broccoli and salads (with a little dressing) and it's only now and then that I'd like a drink and a bagel with a small amount of cream cheese and lox at La Grande Scene after the ballet. And the time will come when I'll have it and the one-ounce jar of Beluga caviar I have been saving. But no seconds! I honestly believe that despite all this deep down torture, it is the easiest diet I have ever been on. "Nothing" indeed proves better than "little," or so the body seems to think. And of course this dies should be undertaken only by the "morbidly fat" as they have been termed. I feel none of the hunger pangs that come with a low-calorie diet. (This I understand comes with the refeeding process.) But this I know: I will never go back to being a butterball. I have not eaten for eighty-nine days. In three months I have lost fifty-eight pounds.

I see myself in romantic scene The music low, the night serene Redford is there; 'would be complete If only, dammit, I could eat!