A few years ago, cereal and breakfast brand extraordinaire Special K expanded its ‘two-weeks-to-weight-loss!’ empire by introducing new cereal flavors and a number of other new products, making it easier for those taking “the Special K diet challenge” to stick to its two-Special-K-meals and one actual meal per day confines.
The new products included snack bars, protein water, breakfast shakes and chocolate-coated somethings. [Did you hear that, ladies? You can eat chocolate and still lose weight. How positively sinful, am I right?] And of course Special K’s signature “red berries” cereal. WTF are red berries? I’m familiar with strawberries and raspberries, but red berries is discomfortingly vague for me.
There are now chips and crackers available, and even more chocolate. But despite all the new products, the Special K diet plan boils down to the following: Eat a little food if you have to. Not too much, or you’ll get fat. And two-thirds of your diet should come from a box marked Special K.
What would Michael Pollan say?
But Kellogg’s has done a splendid job of this—that slender, feminine K is on cereal boxes across the world, and doesn’t need to be translated in order to be understood in any language.
The image Kellogg’s projects, however, is one of faux positivity. The good people at Special K want women to be happy. And because all women want to lose weight–and Special K gives them the means to do that–the brand is helping to make women happy. It’s helping women lead fuller, happier lives where they can prance around beaches in red dresses and red bikinis eating red berries and being fabulous.
Those cereal people care about us, and that’s why they expanded their line of products. If you just give in to the Special K diet food monopoly you too can have all this.
Other brands have positioned themselves as healthy weight loss programs to some degree: Subway, Healthy Choice, Progresso. They want to help you achieve your goals … by eating the food they make. They’re proud of what you’re doing and you have their support … as long as you keep eating their food.
But their food comes with hefty price tags. And I’m not talking about emotional price or nutrition price (although both are valid concerns), I’m talking price price. How much is it actually costing us, in dollars, to take the Special K Challenge and “lose up to two dress sizes in two weeks?” I did a little comparison shopping and here’s what I found:
- A 6-count box of Special K Protein Meal Bars is $7.99. In comparison, a Nature’s Valley Protein Bar (5-count box) is $3.69.
- A 4-count box of Special K Protein Shakes is $8.99. One shake has 190 calories and 10 grams of protein. Glucerna, Boost, and Ensure (the other comparable shakes at my grocery store) all check in with a lower per unit price.
- Special K cereal ranges in price from $3.99 (on sale) to $6.99 (for the value size). As much as I would like to knock the K here, the price and value here are comparable to those of other cereals.
Depending on how I planned it all out, a single week of the Special K Challenge could cost me as much as $40 in Special K products alone. That doesn’t include my free-to-be-me meal, or any fruit, milk, or any coffee I may consume along with my protein bars and red berries.
I’d rather save money, eat foods with short ingredient lists and not get sick of eating the same thing over and over again. I can’t imagine I’m alone in feeling this way, and yet diets like this one have been popular for years. Why?
Perhaps because companies like Special K have done an excellent job of convincing us that we not only need to lose weight for the sake of our own vanity, but also because doing so will make us brighter, shiner, better versions of ourselves. They create a dream scenario we can’t help but want to buy into. Special K’s advertising is about having it all—being thin and beautiful and still getting to eat what you want (just as long as a good deal of it is Special K).
But at the end of the day, all we’re really getting is a crappy box of expensive granola bars dipped in something that’s supposed to be chocolate but tastes like a bizarre synthetic concoction that you know deep down isn’t really even food. On the Special K diet challenge, having it all really just means being thin, hungry, and broke.