Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you believe this definition, then the world of weight loss surely qualifies as certifiably insane.
Sandwiched between the holidays and the Super Bowl, Big Food celebrates “weight loss” annually as an occasion near and dear to its heart. With millions of freshly-minted New Year’s resolutions ready and waiting, the processed food industry takes advantage of these emotionally vulnerable folks they’ve helped fatten up during the past year. Low on self-esteem and oftentimes filled with self-loathing, overweight people flock to buy the treasure chest of body-slimming solutions, and Big Food smiles all the way to the bank. After all, it’s not too often that companies can make money off the problem they’ve helped to create. But upon taking a closer look at the many weight-loss “solutions” Big Food offers, you quickly realize they are nothing more than highly-processed “faux foods” that distort the concept of healthy eating.
To prove my point, here are three real-life examples from some of the world’s largest food companies:
Slim-Fast has been a staple in the weight loss world for decades. Launched by Thompson Medical in 1977 Slim-Fast’s long-term advertising message, “a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a sensible dinner” catapulted it to the top of the diet meal-replacement pile. Acquired by Unilever in 2000, Slim-Fast now advocates a modified program they call the 3-2-1 plan: three one-hundred calorie snacks, two meal replacement shakes or bars, and one dinner. Excusing for a moment the very dubious strategy of replacing real food with shakes and bars, let’s look at the quality of ingredients you get with Slim-Fast.
Can you say chemistry experiment? Not only are the ingredient labels long, but they feature artificial sweeteners, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, various GMO ingredients (soy, corn), rBGH-treated dairy, and TBHQ (the main component of lighter fluid). So, is ingesting all this really bad stuff good for you, even if it helps you lose weight? I don’t think so! [For more details of Slim-Fast’s weight-loss program and complete nutritional information, click here].
Processed foods powerhouse Kraft uses the New Year as an opportunity to kick-start advertising for Crystal Light. In its latest campaign, a plane crash+island setting (akin to the TV series LOST) serves as a backdrop to not only declare Crystal Light’s “5 Calories, Zero Guilt” message but also to inform women that they never know when they’ll need to be bikini-ready.
But is Crystal Light the beacon of guilt-free drinking it pretends to be? Filled with artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, and artificial colors, Crystal Light can hardly be described as “healthy.” Furthermore, when you pour through the actual research, the use of artificial sweeteners’ impact on weight loss is at best inconclusive. In fact, some studies suggest diet beverages may even lead to weight gain. So for my money, this is yet one more Big Food weight loss solution I’m not buying.
Kellogg’s Special K is another long-time member of the processed food diet club. Similar to Slim-Fast, Kellogg’s has used a meal replacement strategy called “The Special K Challenge.” Originally the challenge replaced breakfast and lunch with a bowl of cereal, and then you could eat a normal dinner. Over the years, Kellogg’s has broadened the diet’s options by adding bars and protein shakes into its mix. And how healthy is the Special K lineup? Let’s check out the ingredients and nutrition credentials of one of its cereals to find out:
With 10g of sugars, Special K’s fruit and yogurt cereal is just as sweet as kid-targeted Trix cereal. This Special K cereal also contains artificial colors like Red 40, artificial flavors, GMO ingredients (corn syrup, canola oil, corn starch), high fructose corn syrup, BHT (a preservative used in embalming fluid), and TBHQ (the main component of lighter fluid). Does this sound like real, healthy food to you?
So what does make Special K so special? The answer is–it’s marketing. Using a variety of research methods, Special K gets inside the minds of women to understand the psychology of weight loss. In doing so, they’ve discovered new, motivating ways to get women to buy their weight-loss products. The latest incarnation of Special K’s campaign is “what will you gain when you lose.” Kellogg’s says it hopes this effort will change the way women think about weight loss by taking the focus off the actual numbers and bringing it to the feelings and emotions you gain when you achieve your goals. While this approach seems much more empowering than Crystal Light’s sexist advertising, the trust it builds in Special K is misplaced. After all, why should you trust a brand like Special K when it so boldly misrepresents its products as healthy?
But what sums up Big Food’s Insane Weight Loss Program better than anything else I’ve seen this year is a Wal-Mart ad that features some co-marketing with none other than Slim-Fast and General Mills’ Yoplait brand. Here, check it out:
Yep, you heard it right. The Wal-Mart shopper is excited about getting back into a “healthy routine” with shakes and Boston Creme Pie. Yes, this is pure insanity! Real food is the answer to our weight loss issues, not some highly processed, chemically-enriched version of food. If you eat a balanced diet filled with vegetables and fruits, limit your portions [of ‘bad foods’], and minimize processed foods, you will be on the road to long-term success.
I think Albert Einstein was right about insanity. He also has another great quote that I wish Big Food would listen to:
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Come on Big Food … take the challenge. Tap into your genius, get some courage, and start moving our food back in the right, REAL direction.
What do you think of Big Food’s weight loss ideas? Are they genuine attempts to improve our health, or are they just one more way we’re manipulated and lied to about what’s best for our bodies? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
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