I invited a group of my friends to lunch recently. As I reached out to shake the hand of Wanda, she pressed a plastic pouch in it and said, "Be a dear. Drop this in water five minutes before we eat."

"What is it?" I asked."Lunch. I'm on the Nutri-System diet."

Muriel arrived with a can of powdered mix in a brown paper bag, Dorothy clutched a frozen entree from Weight Watchers to her chest, and Helen pulled a scale out of her handbag as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

It was like hosting a famine.

Maralyn was the only one who hadn't brought her lunch. I was cheered until she said, "Put me close to the bathroom, Erma. I'm taking diuretics and am up and down a lot."

The entire world is on a diet. The standard greeting anymore isn't hello or have a good day, it's "I lost 23 pounds."

We chart the weight of movie stars and television personalities with all the fervor of seismologists measuring earthquakes - who is taking it off; who is putting it back on. As we walk down the aisles of a supermarket, we gravitate toward the word "lite" as though drawn by a magnet. We stock our carts with everything from sugar-free laxatives (as if you're going to pig out) to constructed bacon.

I have a container of oleo in my refrigerator that is new and supposed to be good for my heart. I put a chunk of it over steaming broccoli, and you know what happened? Nothing happened! It didn't melt. It just sat there. When I put some in a skillet to saute mushrooms, it disappeared. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.

Even Orville Redenbacher and his grandson (I hope that kid is in the will) have a commercial showing a popcorn-eating elephant that levitates after he eats it.

As my guests sat down at the table with their plastic pouches, boxes, measuring spoons, pills and scales, Wanda pointed to my plate and asked, "What do you call that?"

"A hamburger," I said.

"Who puts it out?" asked Dorothy.

"No one. I made it myself."

"What's in it?" asked Maralyn, returning from the bathroom.

"Meat. You want a bite?" I asked Muriel.

"I couldn't," she said.

"Don't tempt Muriel," said Wanda. "She's lost 15 pounds. Pretty soon she'll look like Tommy Lasorda."

Muriel smiled and said, "Thank you."