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The Special K Challenge

June 13, 2010

The Special K Challenge

I am sure when most people hear or see ‘The Special K Challenge’ on TV or in ads, they think that Kellog’s is giving them tools to lose weight and then challenging them to go off and do it, but that isn’t the case at all.  My take on the ‘Special K Challenge’ is more of a handicapping challenge.  A sort of ‘one hand tied behind your back’ kind of challenge.  If you choose to eat these remarkably unhealthy foods–the line of Special K products–then it truly is a challenge to get fit.  Let me explain…

I don’t shrink down from a challenge

You hear all the time, anyone can sue anyone, and they can, but on the same hand, anyone can challenge anyone.  It is simple, you just challenge them.  You put a time limit on it to make it seem like it is a real challenge, and you make up some rules and voila, you have a challenge.  This challenge does not mean for one single second that the creator of the challenge thinks that it will work.  In fact it is so brilliant because they don’t even claim that it will work.  They just challenge you to try it.  It is like when you challenged your college roommate to eat cat food during a night of drinking, you didn’t think it tasted good, nor did you think he would take up cat food eating as part of his diet, you did it because it is funny as hell and when you phrased it as a challenge, and goaded him a little you knew he would do it.

Activia has a 2 week challenge: Eat Activia everyday for two weeks – if you don’t feel the difference, we’ll refund your money.*  If you don’t feel the difference???  I don’t even understand this one… what difference???  According to Activia, **Clinical studies show that Activia, with Bifidus Regularis, helps slow intestinal transit when enjoyed daily for 2 weeks as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.  Do I want to slow intestinal transit in the first place?? I don’t know, but I didn’t think so…  In any case, I eat Activia all the time.  I love probiotic yogurt, although I could be getting totally snowed.  Hell, I am sure I am, but it tastes great, makes a great base for cereal (the only cereal I eat is All Bran Buds) and fruit, and with a little additional protein, 2-100 calorie packs can actually be used in a great morning or mid-day meal.  The point is though, they don’t care about any challenge, nor about ‘feeling different’.  They just want you to try their product.  Try it for 2 weeks is even better than just trying it.  As well, what are the odds of you actually keeping your cash register receipt, the UPC code from the package and then filling out a form, addressing and stamping an envelope and mailing all of this in to, later, receive a check for up to $12…

The thing is most challenges are relatively harmless.  They just want you to try their product for long enough to get used to it.  The Special K challenge is different though.  They not only want you to try their product, but they want you to associate their product with weight loss and good health.  They want you to think that Special K is part of a weight loss diet.  NOTHING could be further from the truth.

The Products

Stage 1: Lets start with the first stage of products that are at the heart of this nefarious plan.  The Special K cereal itself.  The claims of this cereal being good for you are based on the misinformed days of eating low fat foods.  Awhile ago, led by nutritionists who had noticed that there were more calories in a gram of fat than protein or carbohydrate, decided that a low fat diet was good for weight loss.  This is wrong because it ignores how the body processes the calories, ie, what do the calories do to your blood sugar or your feelings of satiation (fullness), or even how the different macronutrients are converted to energy by the different energy pathways.  We know now that foods that are extremely high in carbohydrates, specifically refined grains, and that are extremely low in fibre will cause your blood sugar to rise, which will cause your pancreas to release insulin which in turn will cause you to store calories as fat.  The GI Index of Special K is 69.  That is pretty high, mind you it is a fair bit lower than the Corn Flakes (80).  This isn’t a diet food, plain and simple.  It is low fat though.  The nutritional information for Special K is to the left and you can click on it to enlarge it.  Special K is low in fat, low in protein and very low in fibre.  All that said, it isn’t a sugary treat, just a refined grain cereal.  Bad but not very bad.

This brings us to stage 2:  Red Berry Special K was the first entry I believe in this stage of development of the challenge.  When I saw the cereal I didn’t think anything of it, just special K with berries in it.  My wife loves it and my kids started eating it.  One of them loved the berries, the other one the flakes.  I figured they were just Special K flakes until one morning I tried them…  They were sugary, like frosted flakes!  I was shocked.  I checked the nutrition label (something I should have done before I fed them to my kids) and lo and behold, they have added more sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup.  No wonder my kids loved them.  They are lower calorie than the original Special K, but that is probably due to the fact that they  have freeze dried strawberries in them and just about everything on earth is lower calorie than refined rice.  But for every 31 grams, they have added 5 more grams of sugar, more than doubling the sugar in each serving.  They are now 16% sugar!  They did add fibre though, quite a bit to be honest, so that is an improvement, they brought the overall fibre up to 3 grams.  The problem though is that their fibre to sugar and fibre to calorie ratio is terrible.  You will most likely gain weight eating this breakfast cereal, you won’t lose it.  Throwing in strawberries and sugar isn’t going to make this healthy.

After the Red Berries they followed this up with Vanilla Almond, Cinnamon Pecan, Chocolatey Delight, Blueberry and the worst of all, Fruit & Yogurt (always be wary of the most nutritious sounding varieties of manufactured foods, they always put the most sugar in these).  All of these have similar nutritional information to the Red Berries.

Then the line of snack foods came out.  The Special K fruit Crisps, and the Chocolately Drizzle bars.  All of these bars are less than 100 calories, so they must be healthy….  Lets take a look (off to your left).  Hmmm… they are 23 grams in size, about a mouthful.  Don’t eat a snack so small that it is essentially a one bite snack.  You will be very hungry afterwards, maybe even more hungry than before you ate it.  Of the 23 grams, 18 of them are from refined carbs (less than one gram of fibre).   Nearly 80% refined carbs (half of this, nearly 40% of the bar is sugar).  The Special K diet claims to be healthy for you because it has almost no fat.  These bars have 1.5 grams of fat.  6% fat.  How anyone can be so bald faced when they call these healthy is beyond me.  It is literally astounding!  Whomever thought this was a good addition to the Special K challenge  has balls of steel.  They must have trouble getting onto airplanes because they set the metal detectors off.

The new claim to the healthiness of this unhealthy snack? It is portion controlled…  That means that it is small, so even if it is bad for you, it is so small it won’t do you any harm.  If you have come this far with me, following my writings and discussions, I am sure you are completely clear on how ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS THIS CLAIM IS!!  Seriously, they are saying, ‘We know this is essentially a candy bar and terrible for trying to maintain your weight, but it is a small candy bar, so it will help you lose weight…’.  Based on this theory, the small candy bars that are given out at Halloween should be part of a healthy diet plan.  In fact, you should have a box full of them at home…

I know people who keep jars of little candy bars at home.  They aren’t fit.  One of the first rules of losing weight, or getting fit is get rid of your candy drawer.  This specifically includes Special K Chocoately Drizzles, and Chocolately Pretzels and Bliss Mocha Bars, and Fruit Crisps (I have had these fruit crisps and they are incredible to eat.  They are like Lilliputian Pop Tarts).   Don’t have these things in the house and don’t fool yourself that you can actually eat just one packet.  To be full after snacking on one of these, you would need to eat a bunch of fruit and yogurt or some chicken on a small salad.  These are healthier choices.  As well, eating refined carbs has been shown to create and sustain an addiction.  If I eat something like this, the flood gates will probably be open and I will likely binge.

So, if you are Kellog’s where do you go from here?  Stage 3 of course.  One option would be to wrap up a pat of butter, slap a Red K on it and add it to the challenge.  This would seem to be a logical conclusion of their challenge, but no, that would be too obvious.  Why not launch a brand of protein added foods.

In reality, the real problem all of the Special K foods have had from the beginning of time is the low protein.   There is no balance to these foods.  They are just refined carbohydrates.  Without coming right out and saying, yep, we have been snowing you for awhile, now lets eat healthier, they have essentially done just that.

The problem again though, is that this new line is still refined foods that aren’t likely to fill you up and are full of sugar to make them taste good.  They are better choices and some of them might even be good choices (I am thinking the  new K20 Protein water mix could be a good choice.  For 30 calories you get 5 grams of fibre and 5 grams of protein in your water.  I am quite intrigued to try this stuff).  These are quick and easy meal replacements, not healthy foods, and they should not be part of your weight loss routine, but instead, if you have failed to follow your routine, these could be the best choices on the shelves.  It is good to have back ups when you are out and trying to fill up before you give into the temptation of a burger and fries.  That is a marketing strategy that may very well be truthful for this third stage of product.

So rather than go for broke and packaging up their own version of Special K chocolate bars, they have confused the situation by coming out with a protein and fibre line, something that could possibly help (at least the water, everything else looks questionable at best).  These items include: Protein Water Mixes, Protein Snack Bars,  Premixed Protein Shakes, and of course, check this out, a protein added cereal: Special K Protein Plus.

What is Special K Protein Plus you ask?  It is an cereal engineered with our current knowledge and research regarding healthy food as its corner stone.  Reduce the refined carbohydrates, maximize the fibre, reduce the sugar to its minimum and add as much protein as possible.  This cereal is amazing on paper.  I will have to try it out.  But compare it to the original Special K…  It is as much like its predecessor as a Ferrari Scaglietti is like a Model T Ford.  Sure they both had 4 wheels and these 2 cereals still have the Special K logo, but that is about all they have in common.

  • Less than 1 gram of fibre to 10 grams
  • From 23 grams of carbs down to 14
  • From 4 grams of sugar down to 2
  • From 6 grams of protein up to 10
  • Notice how they have gone from 0.5 grams of fat to 3… and still they have overall reduced calories while doing this:
  • From 120 calories to 100

This new cereal is like a complete confession that they have been scamming us into thinking their initial cereals and snacks will help us lose weight.  If I told everyone not to do something and they would get better, and then later on, told everyone that to get better you need to do that same thing I was recommending against, you would know I was wrong in the first place.  I would be a fool not to just come out and say, yep, I was wrong.  So, the  products have come full circle, even though they are telling you that even the earlier cereals and bars are part of your challenge.   They aren’t differentiating between any of them.  2 items totally different in all nutritional manners are just equal to them…  How can this be?  How can the product have nothing to do with the challenge?

The Other Challenge Instructions

It works by the same principle that useless exercise devices work.  It is quite simple.  We know that eating healthy foods in moderation coupled with exercise is how you get fit and stay fit.  That is the only answer to being overweight that we currently have and it is the best answer.  What any program should be focusing on is finding ways to help you incorporate this in your life.  That is what ‘You Are Not A Fit Person’ the book (shameless plug) is about.  Plain and simple.  The challenge doesn’t make any bones about this:

As part of healthy eating, low fat Special K* cereals and portion controlled snacks can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight

Be active! Include 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. Go for a morning walk, rent a yoga video or try something totally different like salsa dancing.

What this challenge is really saying is if you eat well and exercise you can absorb a few unhealthy snacks like Special K.  They have some awesome diet plans on their website that they have shoehorned in their breakfast  cereals and snacks.  It is a 3 & 2 program.  3 meals, 2 snacks.  That is a good program, but I much prefer the 4 meal program I outline in my book.  The problem with snacks is that a lot of times you end up eating a sugary, junky item and justifying it.  In any case, look through the program, print the recipes for the foods, they look pretty healthy, just ignore the Special K.  Another great resource on the website is their article database.  There is some good information in there.

So that is all this program really is.  Essentially a healthy living guide with some unhealthy food suggestions stuck in.  If you were eating healthy and exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day, you wouldn’t be unfit and you wouldn’t even think of using this challenge.  Don’t be snowed.  There will be a lot more of these to come.  Foods that masquerade as healthy, with parent companies buying and setting up healthy websites and cramming the food into the website.

Remember as well, this is the company that suggests Froot Loops is a great way for kids to get their fibre intake.  Man do these people have balls of steel…  I hope I never get in behind the executives from Kellog’s in an airport security line up… It will take all day.  Oh who am I kidding they probably have a private jet.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Hannah B. permalink
    February 23, 2011 11:34 am

    My husband and I both started the Special K Challenge 2 months ago (I don’t believe in 2 week diets). Along with the Special K Diet, I kept the workout regimine I was using before and my husband added 30 minutes of cardio/lifting every day. We were not unhealthy to begin with, both had about 10 lbs to lose (we both lost some muscle mass after college athletics). I have lost all of the weight, but my husband only lost 2 lbs. The difference for me was using the “unhealthy” snacks. My husband only snacked on fruits and veggies, however they did not keep him full long enough between meals like the Special K snack bars and crackers did for me, and he ended up eating almost an extra meal in fruits and vegetables every day. Essentially different programs work for different people, “unhealthy” or not.

  2. July 13, 2012 10:16 am

    My spouse and I stumbled over here by a different web page and thought I
    might check things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.

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