Big Food’s Insane Weight Loss Program

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.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it by pasting a link on your Facebook wall, liking it, or emailing it to a friend. And for more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe to my blog.

This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Karen

    Whether you choose to go paleo, low carb, GAPS, “cooking like my granny,” etc, the most important aspect of all is to eat real (quality) food. As in, non-GMO products, grass-fed animals, pastured eggs, avoid pesticides, etc. This is the only true way to enjoy good health, which should be the ultimate goal of all (not just a lean body). I personally follow a low carb/paleo type diet, with the inclusion of raw milk and raw milk products (raw cheese, homemade yogurt, etc). And even though I personally think the grains produced now are a big problem for most people (if not all), I advocate eating quality food above eating a grain-free diet.

    1. D. Smith

      @ Karen: This is exactly how I feel, almost to the word. I’m not against eating any food group, as long as we stick to real foods.

      Thanks Bruce for a great blog. I have enjoyed reading and following all your stuff so far. It is so important to try to help educate people. In the words of WAPF – you teach, you teach, you teach! And that’s how the word gets around to everyone. After all, we all became aware at some point and from someone, as to what Big Food was/is up to – and it’s not helping us with our health, for sure.

  2. Luanne

    “Food” is frustrating. I want to help make changes in this world but sometimes I feel like it’s a losing battle. Food corporations and marketing firms disgust me. I am so blessed to know this isn’t the right way to treat or feed our bodies. Now if we could all just figure out how to help the masses know this as well…and effectively convince the children too…there is where the power for real change will lie! I really liked this article and have been enjoying your blog. Thank you for sharing your information!

    1. Quentin Hartman (@qhartman)

      I can totally relate to your frustration. Particularly since I both want to eat clean from a primal perspective and also eat locally. It becomes doubly challenging then! It is still doable though with dedication. I do sometimes cheat though just to help save my sanity. I try to be strict enough to feel that I am affecting change without becoming dogmatic. The trick is to find the point where idealized philosophies intersect with reality while making sure your definition of reality is as broad as possible.

      Like any grassroots movement, every single person that begins living this way adds to our mass. Eventually, the group will be too large to ignore. You can already start to see it in some communities. I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and it almost feels like we’re approaching a majority here, at least in the circles I run in.

  3. Quentin Hartman (@qhartman)

    For my money, Paleo / Primal is the way to go. It’s the only “program” I’ve ever gotten results with, and it is a TON easier than anything else I’ve tried once I broke the grain habit. I put program in quotes above because they are philosophies or lifestyles more akin to kosher eating or veganism than they are “diets”.

    Look into it!

    1. Michelle O

      My family is paleo, even our pets. It really is the only way to go, I feel better, look better, and have more energy.

  4. Robert

    I find it interesting that the Big Food diets always suggest eating their product for breakfast and lunch, then a ‘sensible’ dinner. First of all, I thought breakfast was the most important meal of the day (I’m sure that phrase was a big food marketing slogan). So why not eat a good breakfast then substitute for lunch and dinner. Probably because these are also convenience foods. Bars and shakes are quick and can be eaten on the go.

    Second, dinner is could be the worst meal of the day for a lot of people. Big portions, more likely to have sauces or gravy, etc. hopefully they have more time to make it, so it might have better ingredients. But if you have just starved yourself with a bar or shake all day, what do you bet that by the time dinner rolls around you want to EAT, a lot. Then you just sit and watch TV and let it all sink in.

    1. jess

      I completely agree with you about that. If you eat extremely little for lunch and breakfast, by dinner, you will be stark raving hungry and eat more than you need and fast, before your brain can realize you are full. Eating whole, natural food takes dedication, time and energy and much thought. Getting the motivation is hard enough and having Big Food and advertising blasting you with their business every way you turn makes it all that more difficult.

  5. Janet Foster

    Great post. You should check out the ingredients list on the side of some of Weight Watchers products. It’s awful.

  6. Ken Leebow

    You are 100% correct.

    If you don’t mind, I’ll add Weight Watchers to the mix. I just saw an ad that stated: No food is off limits. Ever. … with a picture of a cupcake. I posted it on my blog:

    1. Norma

      I think Weight Watchers is the biggest load of crap ever. Everyone insists their new program is about “health,” encourages whole foods and downplays their own brand of processed garbage but then goes on to say, “I can have candy! I can have pastry!” WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO>

      1. jess

        i so agree!!! My friend gloated that she lost 20lbs on weight watchers eating what ever she wanted. But at what cost? Its all about money. No one really cares about our well being except ourselves.

  7. Maureen

    Totally with you on this. If it has to be made in a lab, why do we eat it??? I remember my kids as teenagers doing experiments in the kitchen with food – mixing odd things and baking or freezing or nuking to see the results. You couldn’t have paid me to eat anything they produced. So why would I eat something that was was born of a chemistry experiment, and not even in a kitchen??

    I read the blogs and visit websites for the businesses and companies I would never buy from (a know-your-enemy kind of moment), and even the look of the websites are strange – compare them side by side with a farmers market website or even a blog from someone sharing recipes. The first is overly colored and hyped, like their food. The latter is natural coloring, real foods, lots of humanity.

    And I Love the 2nd Einstein quote. I will use that one.

  8. Food Babe

    All of these products turn the body into an acidic state – primed to develop disease over the long run – whether it be heart disease, diabetes, cancer or another autoimmune disorder. The weight loss benefits in the long run do not work either, because your body will never be satisfied because it isn’t getting easily digestible nutrients, it’s got to work through all the man made chemicals first. The food the earth has given us is all we need for survival, health and wellness. I recently wrote a 5 post series about healthy habits one should adopt not just this new year but for the rest of their lives – One of them was to “change your grocery store” – not shopping at conventional supermarkets has saved me from ever being tempted to buy any type of these ingredients. It’s one habit that could save your life!

    1. Fleur

      I’m curious about your comment about certain food products turn the body into an acidic state. Do you have more information about that, and how it primes the body to develop certain diseases?

  9. Krisha

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It is interesting to see how food companies capiitalize on people’s new year’s resolution to lose weight, especially after the holidays. Here in Canada, Tim Hortons’s introducted a new breakfast egg sandwich simply using eggwhites, and their commercial particularly states that this helps keep the consumers thin. I hope you don’t mind me sharing your post on Twitter.

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Glad you enjoyed reading my post Krisha … and please “tweet” away. I appreciate you sharing my blog with others. That’s how we can spread the message about REAL food.

    2. Karen

      Yeah, that’s a scream, pop into Timmie’s and grab some fake eggwhites in a bun to lose weight! Along with the doubledouble in the new megalarge. And, know what, I’ll take a couple of those maple doughnuts….

  10. Heidi

    I compared my morning cereal (Post Honey Bunches of Oats wtih Almonds) to the Special-K posted above. If I accept corn syrup to be a natural ingredient, this cereal has natural and artificial flavorings, but no other artificial ingredients. It does have “BHT added to packaging material to preserve product freshness.”
    The vitamin % are a little lower than Special-K, but the carb total is 26g, sugars 6g! So if I take the “Special K Challenge” I believe I will be substituting Post cereal for Kelloggs.

  11. Karen

    Big Food never does anything that would be a genuine attempt to improve our health. Never. Ever. Big Food has nothing to do with health. Big Food is about profit. Everything Big Food does is a genuine attempt to convince consumers that they are too lazy, stupid, incompetent, unskilled and unequipped or busy, stressed, sophisticated and important (take your pick) to buy a food item in its humblest form and prepare it simply but well to obtain the greatest benefit. How many grains of rice are in a box of Special K? I love rice with milk for breakfast. But it hasn’t been squirted through a machine or had half a page of mystery ingredients added to it, and I can buy month’s worth of rice for the price of a week’s worth of Special K.

    Big Food will never suggest that people grow a radish in their yard, pull it, wash it and eat it. It is in Big Food’s interest that you think radishes are hard to grow, seeds are expensive and unreliable, take too much space, require scheduling extensive labour in the hot sun, taste awful, and your kids won’t like them. But they would love a toaster pastry.

    We seem to forget that everytime we buy a box of whatever, we are paying for a portion of all the company expenses as well as the part we intend to consume. The actual food part is a very small portion of the product and the reality is that it is also an incredibly small part of the expense. How much is a bag of potato chips? How much is a potato? You and I will pay many times more for a potato when we buy ten or twenty pounds at a time than a potato chip company will when they buy thousands of acres of potatoes at a time. That changes the price from cents per potato to potatoes per cent. An average bag of potato chips has about one average potato. The difference in the price of the potato and the price of the bag of chips has to pay for the factory and the packaging, other ingredients, equipment, utilities, shipping, workers, insurance, payroll taxes, office equipment, advertising, expense accounts, benefits, executive salaries, and of course profit. Since the food factory does all the work, you can rip open a bag of potato chips and scarf the whole thing down in no time. You could eat another two or three bags in the time it takes you to make one.

    If artificial sweeteners helped people lose weight, why are all the people having a diet soda with their dollar menu selection not thin?

    I agree with the other Karen and Quentin Hartman about doing your realistic best to eat real food that has not been altered by any means not possible in your own home, that grains are almost always overconsumed even for non paleo diets, and modern grains are not the same things they were a few generations ago. Big Food is only one option and if enough people choose other options those will become more powerful and competitive once again.

  12. jess

    I began my plant based “diet” over 2 years ago. I slowly weeded out meat and dairy from my life (and I know where to get my protein, in case you wanted to ask) and i have never felt better. My digestive system is working efficiently more than ever before. I have read and learned so much and taken what i wanted from every way of eating . But its still hard to turn away from the ad’s that bombard me every day every where i go. I know better now. I am still learning. It helps to know i am not alone. It greatly saddens me to see industry still hard at work. But the answers are there, and there is nothing the food industry can put out there that we can’t investigate and find the answers to.

    1. D.Smith

      @ jess: When you say you “weeded out meat and dairy” what do you mean by that statement? Were you consuming grass-fed beef and poultry and lamb and bison, and were you consuming raw milk from grass-fed cattle?

      1. jess

        i started eating organic pastured meat and raw dairy from a couple local farms close to my home. Then I dropped the meat, then I dropped the dairy. I still enjoy eggs. I did my own research. I am happy with my choices.

  13. I think it’s mostly common sense: whole, minimally processed; organic/transitional; grown/captured/harvested/made by someone I’ve met (or could, if I wanted).

    Eat food – mostly plants!

    Thank you, Michael Pollan!

  14. Syd

    My belief is that these products are basically Big Food’s way of getting rid of their industrial waste products by marketing them as being healthy when there’s little health to them and what small amounts are there is basically supplements. I can find my own supplements, thank you, and much better ones, from better sources and more effective that are not just sheer numbers used for measurements on the side of a box.

    I went with a plant-based diet several years ago and immediately felt better in many ways including digestion (no more heartburn and teeth problems) but it was going mostly raw that really changed my world. All the inflammation in my body disappeared including that around persistant old injuries (from being rear-ended in a car accident for instance). While many might consider it extreme, I think getting one’s chest cracked open and being incapacitated, on many meds for years pretty extreme (and not for me).

    I guess we need to ask, what amount woud we require to be paid to voluntarily ingest poison, and then ask why we are paying for the privilege of allowing Big Food to do it to us (and our children). Then ask what are you willing to give up to continue eating the way you are? Your legs? Your eyes? Your mobility? Freedom? Savings?

    I had believed the lies for years, but I guess I’m grateful (other than the lost time living in pain and illness) because now I’m able to educate my family, friends and others on what’s real, and in a way they can see and relate with.

    Thanks for crossing over from the Dark Side Bruce Skywalker 🙂

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Thanks for your comment Syd. Glad you are enjoying my blog!

      1. D. Smith

        I still didn’t get an answer to my question about why people are on here promoting plant based diets? I don’t think eating just plants was ever intended to be our permanent way of eating. I think meat and eggs and dairy (good quality, of course) are all very important. Eggs have choline which is greatly needed by the body, not to mention good fats and cholesterol much needed in our diets.

        Michael Pollan is not my hero. He doesn’t do a BAD job of educating about food, it’s just that he, too, seems bent on promoting only plant based foods for the most part. I prefer to rely on gals like Nina Planck and Julia Childs for my food information. Also,

        1. Bruce Bradley

          D. Smith:

          I am also not a vegan / vegetarian, but I try to eat primarily plants. For me there are multiple reasons why: (1) quality meat is expensive, (2) meat production systems are far less efficient per calorie of food produced-which is a big problem as we look to feeding our ever growing world populations, (3) I don’t think we need to be eating milk, eggs, dairy with every meal. Eating a more plant-centric diet makes me feel better.

          Thanks for your comment and for being a reader here at


          1. D. Smith

            I will then leave you with some reasons not to rely on a plant-based diet in order to “feel good” or “be healthy”. I would never go back to that way of eating since discovering the healing and rejuvenating benefits of meat and eggs.

            If you would like to read at the blog of Stanley Fishman, an attorney who loves to study foods check it out at or at this link where there is another attorney who loves to study foods and sustainable agricultural methods, check it out here: [link no longer available].

            I know, most people won’t even open the links, but I do try to keep educating people on the values of a whole food, nutrient-dense way of eating (I don’t like the word diet). But I guarantee you won’t be sorry if you take a peek.

            With that said, I now leave. Thanks for your informational blog.

        2. Syd

          We were asked what we thought of the Big Food diet plans. I quote:

          “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 out bodies? Please share your thoughts and comments below.”

          So I shared what has worked best for me and it was not, I repeat not, meat, dairy or eggs. Those not only did not improve my health but made it worse and now that I know and understand how those three are produced I would never touch them again anyway no matter how many links you provide. Yes, there is small producers who are doing things more humanely. Notice I said “MORE” humanely. I still think, especially now that I have 6 years in on this lifestyle, killing something when it’s barely even in the equivalent of teenaged years is cruel and unjust just to satisfy some tastebud because other than b12 (which is easy to get in supplement and most of the animals raised to become food are themselves supplemented, with an inferior product by the way so I don’t need my supplements to go through an animal first) I can get everything I need plus more. It’s the true meaning of nutrient-dense and adding in meat, dairy, eggs all would require diverting some of the nutrients from the other parts of my diet to process them through, in part because they are acid forming.

          Plus there’s not enough small producers to supply the populations with one big reason because Big Food lobbies so effectively to make it impossible for others to exist let alone compete.

          I also don’t rely on just a couple sources for my food information especially not a site such as Weston Price which only gives slanted views based on a thick agenda.

          But there’s dozens and dozens of other reasons to eat plant-based beyond compassion.

          Perhaps you are just taking it too personally as though it’s an attack on the way you eat. It happens often as those who eat plant-based are healthy and happy role models showing that animal products are not needed which means those who still use them feel some need to defend (even if I didn’t/haven’t asked anyone to defend anything). Perhaps those feelings are something you might want to explore, without attacking others for the way they find balance.

          People talk about plant-based diets because they are phenomenal and work well at reversing all kinds of medical issues that Big Pharma can only hit with pills that need other pills to address the side effects of the first pills which really only treat the symptoms and not the actual causes. But on that note, it’s true. Big Food is very good for Big Pharma.

          Personally, I’m all about Small Farma as my medicine. 🙂

          Again, many thanks Bruce. Can’t wait to see your next posts.

          1. D. Smith

            @ Syd: Yes, well, it’s people like you – people who refuse to open the links and actually read the information provided – who make me NEVER want to go back to that mindset of only eating plant based diets. Killing animals is not inhumane, it’s part of the cycle of life.

            But, I’ll be brief because I’ve dealt with folks like you all my life. You don’t want to hear anything other than what you already think you know, so heaven forbid anyone should send you a link to open – my goodness, that might take some effort and a little time. And it might also give you cause to think you might be somewhat wrong about the way you think of food.

            But, never mind all that. It’s also folks like you who make me decide the effort sometimes isn’t worth the end result of trying to educate people. So, I will unsubscribe from this blog and let you live in happy ignorance.

  15. Amanda S.

    I would like it if you’d examine “healthy” meal replacements such as Beachbody Shakeology. I have some people in my lives who keep trying to sell me that junk, claiming it’s all natural. I suspect you’re better off just…eating a wide variety of foods without labels on them.

    1. Amanda S.

      In my life. As far as I know, I am not a cat. Yet.

  16. charlotte hiller

    Just read your amazing article. I just don’t understand how people don’t get it. There are a gazillion diet books on the market, diet food all over the place, articles on how to lose weight in almost every magazine, and, yet, we are getting fatter each day. But, I’m not so concerned about weight as much as I am about the fact that they’re (big dairy, big agriculture, etc.) killing us! That’s why I’m out there — although not as much as I’d like to be — educating people on “REAL” food and food-like substances. Thank you for blogging about this. We need more people like you out there.

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Hi Charlotte. So happy you’ve found my blog and glad you are enjoying it! Weight loss insanity is definitely maddening. Great to see you are joining “the fight for REAL food.”

  17. Effective tools to start weight loss program and helpful for those who are struggling to lose weight. To lose weight we must prefer raw food over processed food, increase water intake, drink green tea, avoid beverages and soda. Exercise is must to lose weight so be regular in exercise.

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