AMERICA'S OBSESSION WITH thinness never really hit home with me, as anyone who has viewed me in profile can testify.

My eyes (along with other things) were opened during my recent monthlong bout of MGS (Mysterious Gut Syndrome).For most of that time I was lying on the bathroom floor, moaning like a wounded wildebeest awaiting the vultures. Eating was a distant memory and my skin had taken on the ghostly pallor of the Morlocks, the subterranean species in H.G. Wells' novel, "The Time Machine."

"Have you lost weight?" a visitor would ask.

"Yes," I would croak. "About 20 pounds."

"Terrific! You look great!"

Clearly, some rapier-like sarcasm was called for at that moment, but it was hard to articulate any what with all the tile creases in my cheek.

About all I could manage was a pathetic, "Ungh."

What, I wondered, made the cadaverous, just-back-from-Auschwitz look preferable to pleasingly plump?

Was it the sunken cheeks? The dull, lifeless eyes? The way the wet, matted hair sticks to the back of the neck?

Perhaps it was the slurred speech, the shuffling gait, the habit of curling up into the fetal position at the mention of the word "food."

Hard to tell, but the sad fact is that Americans prefer the "Night of the Living Dead" look to the "Porky's" look, let alone the look displayed by those who are on a first-name basis with the clerk at the Big 'N' Tall Shop.

The question is: How do I achieve this heightened state of physical desirability without spending a month curled up on the bathroom floor doing an impersonation of that unfortunate man in the movie "Alien" who had a lizard pop out of his stomach, presumably after eating too much spicy food for lunch?

There are several ways, including:

- Fake an illness. This is not that hard, especially if you don't look that hot to begin with. Gastric disorders are especially good to fake because there are no visible symptoms, or at least none that your office colleagues have any desire to see. Take a few days off and then come crawling back to work on Monday looking tired and wan. (What could be easier?) If you can show up with a cup of clear broth in one hand and a bucket in the other, so much the better. Chances are, people will immediately gather 'round you to ask how much weight you've lost (make sure there are no remnants of jelly doughnut adhering to the corners of your mouth) and congratulate you on how marvelous you look. A graceful swoon would be a nice touch at this point, otherwise a grunted "ungh" should probably suffice.

- Display a lot of prescription pill bottles on your desk. I'm not talking two or three bottles; I'm talking 10 or 20. The bottles can be filled with anything: Sunflower seeds, Jelly Bellies, lug nuts, it makes no difference. You're not going to swallow anything, you're just going to hold the bottles up to the light with trembling hands and say, "I can't remember. Is it three tablets twice a day or two tablets three times a day?" A few days of this pathetic fumbling and people will be comparing your body to that of any Olympic gymnast.

- Send yourself a bunch of get-well cards. For the cost of half a dozen Hallmarks, you'll improve your physical appearance - in the eyes of your colleagues, at least - a lot more than you would with any boring and-or painful diet or exercise program.

"Please don't lose too much weight," you might write to yourself. "I liked you just the way you were."