It is morning and I am in line for the buffet at the Bellagio Hotel here, doing hard and dangerous research into dieting. One in two Americans is overweight, one in five is obese and the ratio is even higher at the slot machines. This whole city is way overweight, and that is because, unlike me, most people here are not in The Zone.

I rush for the food. There's miles and miles of it, a repast that represents the single best reason my grandparents came to this country. I help myself to a side of bacon and a ton or two of fresh fruit. I have a mile or so of linked sausage, scrambled eggs and some coffee. I pause before the shrimp. No. Too early. And then I encounter a small mountain of breads -- rye, white, not to mention rolls, bagels, Danish. I scoff at it. Ha! No bread for me.

And no pasta, either. I have renounced them both even though they were the foods I most loved. I had bread and pasta almost every day -- bread for breakfast in the form of a bagel (or two) and then more bread at lunch and then, for dinner, what could be better than bread and pasta? This is how I lived until recently. Then I entered The Zone.

I say I'm in The Zone -- an actual diet plan, I'm told -- but in truth I don't know what I am in. I read no diet books -- no Atkins, no Ornish, no nothing. I just listened to my friends who, amazingly, have lost a total of 2.3 tons (mostly from around the waist) and concocted my own diet plan. I know it is totally unscientific, but so, I suspect, are all the others.

From what I picked up, this is how The Zone works. You cut out bread, pasta and anything white. This includes risotto, rice and, for good measure, Cream of Wheat. Instead, you eat all the protein you want, which means meat. Specifically, you eat a lot of bacon, because bacon, as we all know, contains something that triggers something somewhere in the body that does something to fat. It makes it go away. As I understand it, the more bacon you eat, the more weight you lose. This is a scientific fact, more or less.

Now I grant you that some medical experts insist that such a diet is not healthy and will lead, in the long run, to the short run. I grant you, further, that this diet makes no sense whatever. The way you lose weight, we have been told, is to ingest fewer calories than you expend. For a slice of bacon to have the same effect as an hour on the stationary bike violates all the laws of nature and, furthermore, does not seem, if you will, kosher.

But if it is true that no diets really work and that we must all exercise (I do that, too) then you might as well have an easy diet that doesn't work rather than a hard one. The awful cabbage soup diet comes to mind -- as do all those years avoiding steak, eggs and, of course, bacon. Now eggs are okay and bacon is a virtual health food and steak is just plain harmless. In The Zone all things are possible.

This is why everyone I meet is talking about dieting. Newsweek and Time have done major pieces on the various diets. The morning shows are all over the topic. Four of the top paperback best sellers are diet books. Say the words Al Gore at a dinner party and people rise from the table and flee. Say "The Zone" and instantly a babble ensues. It's as if you had just mentioned an Internet IPO.

Everyone has a theory. No one is sure about fruits and vegetables. The term "insulin" comes up a lot since it does something. Butter is permitted (Can you believe?) but, alas, there is nothing to put it on. A friend took to buttering his bacon, but not, anymore, in my presence. Ice cream is permitted, maybe even encouraged. (I have to check.) This isn't a diet. It's a dream, the virtual return of childhood.

Oh, what a bunch of fatties we are! Obesity is abroad in the land. Here in Vegas, the stomachs hang over the belts and walks have turned into waddles. Nearly everyone has a drink in the hand and, for some reason I can't explain, more money to gamble in a weekend than I earn in a year. I am plugging away at my research by eating all I want. No pasta, no bread -- but anything else. I am in The Zone or, maybe, just out of my mind. Either way, my clothes fit.