Special K’s Advice to Women: Stop Talking About How Fat You Are and Eat More of Our Cereal

Perhaps inspired by the success of Unilever’s nauseating Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, Kellogg’s Special K has joined in the pandering fun of treating women like they’re still 12 years old, will cry at the drop of a hat, and have nothing better to do than worry about their thighs and insecurities all fucking day.

Because women’s lives are little more than a never-ending body-image group therapy session, Special K created this ad (“Fight Fat Talk”) where women enter a pretend clothing store and find that the tags on the clothes say things like, “Cellulite is in my DNA,” “I have a muffin top” and “I look fat in this.” Then they get upset and remark to each other that THEY say this stuff! All the time! And now that they’ve seen it on a tag, they know it’s bad! Then they all put fingers over their mounts and “Shhhh” at the camera as if the viewer is a small child who’s being unruly in a restaurant.

This supposedly “eye-opening” video, Special K says, is not only to show “how damaging words can be,” but to alert women that fat talk is “a barrier to managing their weight.” And once you’ve got your PMA in place, Special K awaits with a diet plan tailored to your individual needs – just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions that, statistically, you have little chance of sticking to.

In a way, I have to admire the balls of a company that uses a self-image boosting video to sell an unhealthy diet plan in which you eat their products two-thirds of the time. But let’s back up a minute, because I want to point out that Special K’s sobering statistic that 93 percent of women engage in fat talk is gleaned from a study of 168 college-aged women at one midwestern school. Using that to imply that 93 percent of all women do this is misleading and likely inaccurate.

But anyhoo, for this campaign, Special K partnered with the perpetually embarrassing Tyra Banks and includes this quote from her in its press release: “I try to maintain a positive attitude and healthy approach to managing my weight,” says Banks. “That’s why I’m excited to partner with Special K to help empower women to not only feel confident about their bodies, but also to remove those negative thoughts and show them how to employ tips and tricks to make their least liked physical attributes look better.”

I didn’t see any Tyra tips on the FightFatTalk site, but I did see prominent links to its “free” diet plans. Everyone has seen those TV spots exhorting us to take the “Special K Challenge,” which is a simple and unhealthy-to-maintain plan in which you eat two bowls of their cereal that’s only slightly more flavorful and satisfying than puffed rice and “a sensible dinner” each day.

Nutritionists looking at the diet have said that because people on this plan will be so hungry, they might end up eating dinners high enough in fat and calories to thwart their weight-loss efforts even after starving all day. The diet also has been roundly criticized as being too low in fiber and protein to be healthy, but the company has always stressed that this plan is only meant to be followed for one to two weeks to “jumpstart” weight-loss efforts.

The Chicago Tribune reported, “Critics of the Special K Challenge…say that quick-fix diets have been so widely denounced by health experts that the campaign makes Kellogg appear out of touch. Studies of high fiber and dairy diets have shown inconsistent results for years, said Dr. Steven Aldana, professor of lifestyle medicine at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. He said Kellogg took one favorable study and ran with it.”

In a WebMD article, Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD said, “There is nothing special about Special K products. In fact, most are not whole grain, and they tend to be low in fullness-promoting fiber and protein.”

But at some point, Special K created a Weight Watcherslike online plan that offers recipes for sensible dinners. I guess by “sensible,” they meant “enraging,” because I would kill anyone who dared come near me if I tried to eat this little in a day or two weeks. The site offers different plans: “Special K Challenge,” “Get Ready for a Special Event,” “Achieve a Goal Weight” or “Maintain Your Weight.” The first three options spit out the exact same sample meal plan of a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk in the morning (and remember that actual serving sizes are usually a lot smaller than people end up eating); two Special K snacks, such as a cheesecake-flavored snack bar or cracker chips for lunch; fruit and vegetables between these “meals”; and a pasta marinara recipe that calls for 2 ounces of pasta. Other very small dinner ideas Special K suggests are a cup of vegetarian chili, a 4-ounce chicken breast, or an orzo and asparagus salad that calls for one ounce of ham, or a serving of ham the size of your thumb.

Zelman pointed out on WebMD, “This is not a long-term weight loss solution, and if you return to your regular diet, the weight can come back quickly. The Special K diet doesn’t address other lifestyle changes that are the foundation of a sustainable weight loss program. And it’s the things you do on a daily basis that really make the difference over time.”

So I think the overarching message here is that those damaging “I look fat in this” clothing tags should be replaced by ones that read, “Eat Special K cheesecake bars.” Go ahead and try to live on cereal and apples all day long and then reward yourself with 4 ounces of chicken for dinner, as Special K suggests. You’ll likely lose weight fast, gain it back again (and usually more) when you resume eating normally and continue to feel bad about yourself, but not to worry – Special K will hopefully produce another condescending video to help jumpstart the cycle all over again.