Weight Loss Carpetbaggers

Weight Loss Can Be Challenging

Well they’re doing it again. When the New Year rolls around, Big Food companies start peddling their insane weight loss programs filled with leanwashed, “healthy” food options. It’s pretty ironic if you think about it–the very same processed food companies that mislead us into eating more and more empty calories then turn around and sell us even more processed foods that pretend to help us lose weight. Much like the carpetbaggers who went South for political and financial gain after the Civil War, these weight loss carpetbaggers don’t really solve any problems. They just profit from them.

Special Karpetbagger

One of the most insidious of these carpetbaggers is Kellogg’s and its Special K brand. After spending millions of dollars researching women’s attitudes about diets and body image, Kellogg’s has learned how to talk about weight loss. Leveraging these insights, Kellogg’s Special K has created advertising that connects with women by recognizing happiness is more than a number on a scale:

Special K’s Ad: Is a Number Inspiring?

In their “What Will You Gain When You Lose” ad campaign for Special K, Kellogg’s brings to life the consumer insight that feeling good about oneself is not about just a number (your weight) … it’s about feeling good about yourself.

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But like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, after connecting with women emotionally, Kellogg’s sells them out. Rather than deliver healthy, real food options for women wanting to lose weight, Kellogg’s twists its knowledge and sells an über processed, highly profitable Special K line-up:

The Special K Challenge

Kellogg’s “What Will You Gain When You Lose?” ad campaign isn’t really concerned about how women feel about themselves. It’s Kellogg’s latest way to serve up more highly processed foods for their Special K Challenge.

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Special K Ad January 1, 2013

Yet another Special K ad that tries to convince you their products are inspirational.

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Special K Protein Bars and Shakes Ad November 8, 2012

Can highly processed foods be part of a healthy weight loss plan? Kellogg’s would like you to think so! In this ad Kellogg’s pushes its protein enhanced bars and shakes as a key to maintaining your diet willpower.

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On its website Kellogg’s describes its Special K items as “goodness you can taste” and then goes on to say:

Look forward to every meal with a delicious and nutritious variety of Special K foods. We’re proud to include nutrients your body needs with the tastes you crave. From wholesome breakfast foods and savory snacks to shakes, sweet treats and so much more, all of our products were created to delight your taste buds.

But do these products deliver? Can you taste the goodness that Kellogg’s promises? And is Special K truly wholesome and nutritious? To answer these questions let’s take a closer look at several Special K items to see how they stack up:

[Click here for complete ingredient and nutrition info for these products.]

Unfortunately the Special K lineup follows a disappointing, faux food theme that concerns me for many reasons:

  • Servings that will leave you hungry: In order to hit low calorie counts, Special K uses exceptionally small servings and/or foods that are literally filled with puffed air. While real food like vegetables or a piece of fruit make you feel full, it’s doubtful if Special K’s lineup will do much to satisfy your appetite.
  • Lots of sugar: To make their bars, pastries, and drinks sweet, Special K pours on the sugar. In the items I reviewed, total sugars ranged from 6g-18g per serving and drove 25%-40% of the calorie count.
  • Loads of sodium: If you’re watching your sodium intake, watch out since most of Special K’s items have 125-250mg of sodium per tiny serving.
  • Many “fake” ingredients: From GMOs to artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners there’s not much about these products that is real.
  • Preservatives and controversial/potentially carcinogenic ingredients: BHT, trans fats, caramel color, TBHQ, and carrageenan are just some of the worrisome ingredients frequently found in the Special K family.

So does Kellogg’s provide a responsible action plan for weight-loss? No. Rather than advocate eating more real foods, Kellogg’s has merely taken out their processed food toolbox to profit off the global obesity epidemic they helped to create.

Awakening people to Big Food’s deceptive tactics and changing how they think about food and weight loss products is no easy task. Processed food companies have a lot vested in maintaining the status quo. And with their big research and advertising budgets they’ve successfully dominated and controlled the conversation about food. However, step by step real food believers like you and I are fighting back and spreading the word.

So do you want to help me change the conversation about food? Then share my blog with your friends and family. And if you haven’t checked out my novel, Fat Profits, please do. It’s an entertaining thriller about a corrupt food company launching a revolutionary, new weight loss product (sound familiar?). While it’s complete fiction, I’ve leveraged my 15+ years of Big Food marketing experience to create a suspenseful read that brings to life the corporate greed and corruption that’s endemic in the world of food. So seriously, if you love a good thriller, read a FREE copy of the first chapter today, and I’m sure you’ll be hooked.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. If you’re new to my site and you’d like to learn more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe here.

23 Responses

  1. Another great article. I lost 50 pounds eating “healthy” food. Guess what? I gained most of it back! This time around I’m making healthier choices. Sure, it’s taking me longer, but I’m happier and not hungry/grouchy all of the time. I still love the Special K cereal with strawberries and have an occasionsl bowlful. I have yet to find anything else like it. There’s probably a reason for that!

  2. This is fantastic! I discovered in April 2012 that calorie counting was keeping me from losing weight, not because I wasn’t good at it, but because of the types of foods most people choose to eat when trying to survive on a calorie deficit diet. The “best bang for your buck” diet doesn’t work. I would always plateau after a 20 pound weight loss, feel starving all the time, crave like a mad woman, and quickly give up.

    It wasn’t until I realized the problem wasn’t me, it was the food I was eating. There was a sudden realization that corporations don’t care about me, my health, or my waist size (despite their words that they do), but about my paycheck. They make their foods purposely addictive so we come crawling back for more! Then the same corporation that claims to be a different corporation, tells me to stay away from those high fat foods and eat their low-fat/low-cal foods and all will be good in the world. FALSE. All those low-cal treats and snacks are all sugar to make them taste like their fattier counterpart! And don’t even get me started on corn syrup and how physically addictive it is! I went through a horrible 2 week sugar flu while going cold turkey off corn syrup.

    Now I eat a 100% all natural diet. I don’t touch any foods that come with an ingredient list. My food goes from the farm to the local market to my fridge, and doesn’t stop at a chemical plant for processing where crazy chemicals that taste like food are jumbled together to give you some unnatural concoction that’s edible, but not actually food. The result? 60 pound weight loss in 9 months, with only 40 left to go until I hit my goal weight of 120. I have more energy than I’ve ever had before. I don’t crave foods anymore. I’m full after I eat, and I stay full for much longer. My blood sugar and cholesterol are down, Eating like a human being is the simplest thing I could have done to lose weight. No complicated math problems to see if I can eat my food, no tracking, no checking if I can eat something or not. I just eat. My body tracks what I’m eating, I don’t have to worry about having enough points or calories left by suppertime. Had I known it was this simple, I would have done this years ago!

    Thanks for your blog. I’ll be following you much more closely after this article.

    1. Awesome! You must feel like a million bucks! We had to drop processed foods, not for dieting reasons, but because my sons were having adverse reactions to artificial ingredients in the foods. But of course it makes sense that when you get rid of fake foods, you’re healthier by default, even without dieting (in the sense of counting, be it points or calories).

      It’s sad when you realize that no company actually cares about your health. But then, you move forward with the truth that you’re the only one looking out for yourself and you make better choices.

  3. I like your 1st chapter.
    I was once co-founder of a corporate food entity & have insights into how unethical they can be.
    Now, on disability, I have no way to buy your book, but I wish you success.

  4. Those 90-calorie bars have about 34 ingredients in them, of which I believe close to a dozen are sweeteners (sugar, HFCS, sorbitol, rice syrup, etc.). Absolutely horrifying little bits of crap.

  5. I’m so glad I found this blog. I am sharing with my friends and family STAT. I have been changing my family’s diet for about two years slowly. It started for me when my daughter began to develop prematurely. She was 3 years old and developing breasts! I cut out cow’s milk all together and replaced it with organic almond milk. I have seen a huge difference in the way she is developing now physically and emotionally. I have started buying only whole organic foods and (trying to) never buy anything packaged. I want her to grow up with knowledge and discipline about food/fuel. We have to teach our kids the truth about chemicals and harmful additives and chemicals in certain food before they can be brainwashed by big food companies. I’m always looking for information to increase my food knowledge. Thank you for your blog!

  6. Thank you so much for this write up! I wanted to start this diet for 2 weeks but before that wanted to check how safe it is, luckily your blog saved me.
    Will promise myself only to eat natural food.
    Thanks again!

  7. Thank u so much for the information.
    I’m eating Kellogs K for the past 1 year. Didn’t loose even 1 kg.
    I’m not eating outside food. I cook food at home. After reading ur blog I’ll stop eating kellog’s K.
    please suggest what should i do to loose weight.
    thanks a lot again 🙂

    1. Losing weight can be really challenging, and every person’s situation is different. The basic principles I believe in are (1) eat real food focusing on eating more plants (veggies, legumes, fruits), (2) avoid processed foods … even those that are supposedly “lite” or healthy, (3) watch your portions, and (4) get more exercise. Pretty basic advice … but if followed, it works like a charm! Best of luck!

  8. Nice ad on tv but a shame it only promotes this product for women, i guess i will have to buy someone else’s product which include men in their target market audience. This is an extremely poor way to promote any product by alienating one gender and has now limited their product sales to women only which could be interpreted as gender bias and discrimination in advertising, what a shame !.

  9. Typically, if you eat small enough portions of foods you like, and *exercise*, you can lose weight. The idea that a cold cereal is making you fat is ridiculous fear-mongering. I’m not one of those people who is afraid of everything in the grocery store, though. I certainly think Special K is preferable over most cereals marketed to children, for example, and if not Special K, try Fiber One, or maybe Go Lean! Heck, you could lose weight on McDonalds, if your will is strong enough to keep it to a minimum, and your energy is high enough to exercise regularly.

  10. I doubt seriously that one could make enough healthy food choices at McDonald’s to lose weight. The movie “Super Size Me” is a frightening demonstration of what one month of McDonald’s can do to the body. I didn’t read this post to mean that a cold cereal is making people “fat,” but rather than a cold cereal that claims to help you lose weight really doesn’t, because it’s not got enough nutrients to keep you full nor healthy, which is the case with most cold cereals. Check the sugar / fat / protein /fiber per portion on any cereal box. Usually, it’s not pretty. Even Kashi cereals are high in sugar. Here’s where unprocessed breakfast choices have the advantage. Compare any cereal box nutrition to a box of real oatmeal and you’ll see the difference.

  11. Dear Sir,

    I’ve been eating a lot of oats and spinach lately and have lost 20 kilos. I also feel much healthier now. I want to try this product. Do you know what it contains? I’ve also seen Bran flakes. Which is better for rapid weight loss. Bran flakes or Special K?


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sujay. A diet filled with real food like oats and spinach is healthy. As this blog post points out, however, I’m not a fan of weight loss processed foods like Special K. A whole grain cereal with lots of bran, few to no additives, and little to no sugar would be a much choice. Finally, while getting to your ideal weight is a great goal … most the research shows that trying to lose weight quickly backfires over the long haul. Rather, small, simple changes in your diet implemented in a reasonable, sustainable fashion usually leads to the best long-term weight loss outcomes.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog!


  12. Can you please suggest a perfect vegetarian indian diet chart as I have gain 20 kgs in last 2 years after marriage and my doctor suggested me to loose weight up to 20 kgs .my hight is 5.2′ and current weight is 79 kgs and want to come up to 58 kgs.
    I am working girl and have to seat 10 hours constantly.
    please help me to become fit and healthy. Currently not feeling good with this much weight.

    1. Thanks for visiting my site. I’m not an expert on Indian cooking so I’m not sure I can provide a detailed recommendation. Here are my basic thoughts on eating well, though: (1) just drink water — no soft drinks, juices, or diet drinks, (2) eat real food — try to eliminate as much processed food from your diet as possible, (3) eat more vegetables — vegetables fill you up quickly and if prepared without a lot of sauces typically pack a whole lot fewer calories, (4) choose whole grains, the more unprocessed the better — whole grain brown rice vs. white rice, whole wheat bread / naan vs. white, (5) snack healthier by choosing nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruits, and (6) cut added sugar from your diet as much as possible — hopefully you can get to a place where you only indulge in a sweet treat once or so a week.

      Hope this helps! Thanks again for checking out my blog!


  13. I have been trying to get the word out regarding Kelloggs deceptive practices for several years since I realized the truth about thier 100 Calorie claim while doing food sampling. a 100 calorie Pastry Crisp is exactly 1/2 a Pop Tart. That’s 1 of the 2 in a Pop Tart pack. Same ingredients, 1/2 the calories, 1/2 the nutrition, and 1/2 the serving size. Same goes for thier 100 Calorie cookie and cracker packs. The supposed magically healthy snacks are also twice the price of exactly the same regular item.
    Don’t expect the “100 Calorie”claim on the box to be much help with weight control, while the company rips you off. Chances are the portion is so small you’ll want to eat 2, after all it’s only 100 calories. At the same time get no real nutrition.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with having an indulgent snack, as long as you realize for real weight loss and maintaince you need foods with real nutrition in as natural a form as you can get, combined with increased physical activity. Don’t let these deceptive companies rip you off.

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