Let's face facts: Bettering yourself isn't a whole lot of fun until it's over. Dessert-cookbook author Maida Heatter may be in an especially perilous line of work, but she speaks for many of us when she admits, ''I wake up and say, 'I'm going to diet today' 365 days a year. And every night when I go to bed, I say, 'I didn't do it today. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow.' '' If this is the year you resolved not to make any self-improvement resolutions or said the hell with those you had already made, you may as well cut loose in style. So here are some self-indulgence gems, fattening or merely fanciful:
Eating Well Is the Best Revenge
If you can't lick 'em, join 'em: Treat your sweet tooth by following Heatter's recipes for devilish delights like ''Ethereal Chocolate Mousse Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce'' in her new offering, Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever. You say that baking is just too much work? Then follow a recommendation from the latest issue of Chocolatier magazine and pick up some Valrhona chocolate a 31/2 oz. bar of almonds and hazelnuts covered in bittersweet chocolate costs $4.00. While scarfing down those beauties, if you're really out for a gustatory orgy, try watching the video Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate. For 30 minutes you can revel in such sights as heavy swirls of melting chocolate slowly coating armies of waiting cashews, and bakers smoothing rich, creamy frosting onto moist chocolate cakes. Who'd have guessed that molten chocolate could be sexier than Justify My Love?
Shop 'Til You Drop
So your credit-card balance is bigger than your bank account, and you still need new socks. Try the Born to Shop paperback series by Suzy Gershman and Judith Thomas, which will help you find the best bargains for necessities and indulgences around the world. The 10-book series includes shopping guides to New York City, Hong Kong, London, France, and Mexico. If you can't quite afford a whirlwind, worldwide bargain-hunting spree, satisfy your fantasies with the game Mall Madness. When you insert your faux credit card into a slot on the board, an electronic voice tells you how much you can spend and, more importantly, what's on sale. The first player to buy six items and make it back to the parking lot wins.
For Armchair Quarterbacks
Let others work up a sweat while you laugh out loud watching sports-blooper videos. The latest NFL Films tape, Football Follies on Parade, shows you players fumbling, bumbling, and sliding across ice- and mud-encrusted fields. All New Dazzling Dunks and Basketball Bloopers features great sound effects. Did you know that two players colliding on the court sound like bowling pins? And Baseball: Funny Side Up, compiled by Major League Baseball Productions and hosted by Tug McGraw, has a collection of outtakes from sports ads (Pete Rose hawking Grecian Formula 16) plus footage of players like Roger McDowell and Howard Johnson playing practical jokes.
You could also become a basketball star without getting out of your recliner. Attach Hero Hoops Waste Baskets to your wastebasket, take your best shot with your leftover lunch, and swish! the crowds (via microchip) will roar.
For instant escapism, pack up your imaginary Vuitton bags and transport yourself to a foreign land vicariously with the Travelview International series of videos. The gorgeous panoramas of dream spots like Paris' serene Luxembourg Gardens will make you forget your cares, at least until it's time to rewind. Or you could go domestic and watch Rand McNally's VideoTrip Guide to Hawaii, escaping mentally to the islands' soft white sands and gentle waterfalls.
When All Else Fails
Sometimes you just need brainless diversion-no questions asked. Jigsaw-puzzle fans should pick up one of the beautiful Museum Puzzles, which let you piece together works by Seurat, Magritte, and Monet for hours. For tougher mental testing, there's The New York Times Sunday Crossword Omnibus edited by Will Weng or Mad Mazes by Robert Abbott. The ultimate in escapism: the Tom Tierney Paper Doll Cut Out Books, which let you dress up the likes of Princess Diana and Prince Charles or George and Barbara Bush in the elegant attire they've really worn to christenings, balls, and inaugurations. Why should kids have all the fun?