The first sign of spring is not the daffodil--it is the diet.

The moment of truth comes when you take off your winter coat and realize that your silhouette is still the same without it. The hour of decision comes when you embark on a crash diet that will melt away the inches before it's time to climb into a bathing suit.

Each year a new miracle diet appears to promise quick weight loss: the new Mayo clinic diet, the Last Chance Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Pritikin Diet, the Drinking Man's Diet, the Nine Day Wonder Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, the Beverly Hills Diet, the I Love New York Diet, and the Diet to End All Diets.

There are high protein diets, low protein diets and no protein diets. You can munch diet candies. You can take time-release pills. You can even try fasting--which eliminates temptation by eliminating food altogether.

The American appetite for painless, pang-less weight loss schemes is never satisfied. We devour diet books, watch skinny diet doctors in talk shows and swap diets the way our grandmothers swapped recipes.

As a longtime veteran of the battle of the bulge, I have taped each miracle diet to my refrigerator door. I noticed that they have a lot in common.

On most miracle diets it doesn't matter how many calories you consume, as long as you combine them correctly. The butter may melt and the bacon may sizzle, but you will still lose weight if you eat a grapefruit at every meal, according to one diet. Another formula for firmness calls for bananas and milk one day, meat and tomatoes the next and vegetable soup for breakfast.

Another instant weight loss principle is that anything is edible if you don't have to eat it for long. Fortunately, most miracle diets do not last more than two weeks. The New York diet even advocates an eating holiday after a week on the diet, as a reward for losing so much weight so fast.

Miracle diets often use the same two words to predict weight loss: "up to." Lose "up to" 10 pounds in seven days or "up to" two pounds a day, they say. I have never known anyone to reach the top of the "up to" scale on their way down.

The daily weigh-in is a special ritual. First, you take off all clothing, jewelry, glasses and heavy Band-Aids. Then, you move the scale to a spot on the floor where the needle slopes to the left, step on carefully, and balance on your toes to minimize weight. Three tries should give you three different readings and you can pick the lowest.

What turns a miracle diet into a miracle diet book are the recipes and menu plans that authors add to pad the basic two-page diet regimen. These always feature foods like turnips, cabbage and protein bread. If you were willing to actually eat these foods, you wouldn't need a diet.

Most dieters shame themselves into appetite control. They tell everyone they see that they're on a diet. They swear that they are filled to bursting from a lunch of two brussels sprouts and a radish rose. They talk so much about food and how they don't need it any more that it becomes impossible for them--or anyone around them--to eat without feeling guilty.

I have lost weight on every diet and every diet program. Each time I reward myself with a new wardrobe and a Whitman Sampler. By the time I finish the last peanut cluster, it's time to diet again.

Last year my doctor suggested that I abandon miracle diets and adopt a lifelong regimen of sensible eating. He handed me one small instruction sheet. There were no eating holidays, and no end in sight. I knew it wouldn't work when I tried it out on my friends. No one even wanted a copy to tape to the refrigerator.