Special K Challenge: Get lost

Yesterday while cruising around these here ‘nets, I stumbled upon a blog that I won’t mention by name because it’s irrelevant.  One of the posts I read described a promotional event for the Special K challenge, wherein people stepped on a scale but instead of being told their weight, they were given an inspirational word.  That’s nice, right?  Well, on the surface, yes.  But let’s dig a bit further, shall we?

As you can see in the image on the left, the motto of the Challenge is, “What Will You Gain When You Lose?”  Right off the bat, we know that this challenge is predicated on weight loss, which, like I’ve said, doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  The idea that you have to lose in order to gain, though, does sort of send up a red flag for me.  But maybe I’m not being entirely fair.  So let’s just go ahead and say that the motto isn’t problematic.  That gives us one less thing to deal with.

What is the challenge, exactly?  The Special K Challenge is a two-week program that takes the nutrient-poor, calorie-restrictive meal plan that the cereal brand has been guilting women into for years and dresses it up with pretty colors and interactive web-based tools designed to appeal to the female eye (because obviously every woman loves pretty colors and clean designs!).  On the website, you can choose the start date of your challenge, and customize your plan by choosing from four different menu types: Classic, Mix it Up (for foodies!), On-the-Go, and Chocolate Lover’s (don’t deny it ladies, you can’t live without chocolate, especially during that time of the month, amirite?!).  From there, you can mix and match Special K foods to create your own customized 14-day plan.

For the sake of research for this post, we’ll look the Classic plan.  Since there’s a mix and match option,it seems that the different names given to the plans are cosmetic.  After all, there are only so many varieties of Special K foods, and if you can change them around to suit your preferences within the parameters of the challenge, I don’t really think it makes a difference which plan you end up going with.  The plans give you the following: a Special K breakfast, a SK mid-morning snack, a SK lunch, a SK afternoon snack, and then dinner from a recipe provided by SK.  You also have the option of eating unlimited fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

So, let’s take a look at a day like this in terms of calories.  On Monday, the day starts with a bowl of Original cereal.  Calorie count with milk: 160.  And the cereal contains high fructose corn syrup.  Lovely.  Snack: 90 calories (and HFCS).  Lunch: 180 calories (what, no HFCS?!) Snack: 90 calories.  Dinner: 309 calories.  Total caloric intake for the day: 829.  829 calories for an entire day.  This makes me irate.  Okay, yes, you can add in unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables.  But in order to bring that measly number up to something healthy, you are going to have to eat more fruits and vegetables than you can handle.

Let’s take a minute to take a look at some facts about calorie intake.  For the sake of the calculations we’ll have to do, let’s take a 165-pound, 5 ft. 4 in. female (the current average, according to the CDC), age 30, with a somewhat active lifestyle.  The Mayo Clinic, whose calorie calculator I’m using for this little exercise, defines somewhat active thusly: “Include light activity or moderate activity two to three times a week”.  Her daily caloric needs: 2,000 calories.  To be clear, this is the number of calories she would need to put in to her body in order to go through her daily routine and break even: 2,000 calories.  If someone following the Challenge wanted to have a healthy diet, she would need to add 1,000-1,200 calories worth of fruits and veggies to her diet.  Calorically, that’s the equivalent of 10-12 bananas (I use the example of bananas here because they are one of the higher calorie fruits, and because fruits generally contain more calories than vegetables).

Another aspect of calorie management that we should take into account is basal metabolic rate, or BMR.  Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs just to function on the most basic level.  If you were to stay in bed all day, at rest, this is how many calories you would burn.  Your body needs these calories in order to power the heart, the brain, the lungs, the kidneys–essentially, just to run at a steady state.  The BMR for our hypothetical woman is 1,532, or about 700 calories more than allowed on the Special K Challenge plan.  For the record, taking in fewer calories than the bodies uses leads to starvation.

Okay, now we’ve covered weight maintenance, but this Special K Challenge is a weight loss plan.  Well, to lose weight, the woman in our example above would have to burn more calories than she is taking in.  As we can see looking at the BMR, though, the body is burning calories all the time.  I’m burning calories while I sit here writing this post.  You are burning calories as you read it.  That’s why it takes so many calories for us to maintain our weight.  That’s also why when we eat less, we can’t think as well, or react as quickly, or even be as nice to the people around us.  Without the number of calories the body needs to power us through the day, the metabolism starts to go into conservation mode and the body starts to shut down.  Healthy weight loss consists of one to two pounds a week.  One pound is 3,500 calories.  If we do the math, that means we should burn an additional 500 calories every day, which we can do through a combination of exercise and diet.  To be symmetrical, let’s say we’ll eat 250 fewer calories and exercise to burn 250 calories each day.  So now our hypothetical woman is eating  about 1,750 calories a day, and losing weight at a sustainable, and healthy rate.  And she’s still consuming 950 more calories than she would be on the Special K plan.  In other words, in order to lose weight in a healthy way, she’d still want to try and add about 9.5 bananas to her daily intake.

Either that, or she could hop on over to a site like My Pyramid and make up a meal plan that will deliver a variety of different foods: whole grains, lean meats and other protein sources, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables…and nary a drop of high fructose corn syrup.  She could actually eat REAL FOOD, and still lose weight!

If you’re still reading at this point, hopefully you understand to a certain extent why I find the Special K challenge to be so deplorable.  Obviously there are resources that most people can access if they want to commit to a lifestyle that involves a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, and if someone wants to choose the Special K challenge over that option, it’s their prerogative.  But the fact of the matter is that Special K launches national campaigns advertising this program and making it seem like some sort of healthy choice.  I know the challenge only lasts 14 days, but at no point over the course of those two weeks do you learn anything that will help you maintain the weight you’ve lost or continue losing weight if your goal is to do so.  Moreover, if you do want to lose more weight, and you extend the amount of time you spend doing the challenge, you’re not doing your body any favors.  When I was at the height of my eating disorder, I’d estimate that my daily caloric intake was probably between 800 and 1,000.  One of the many reasons why EDs are so dangerous is because long-term (and even short-term, in some cases), this kind of caloric restriction can kill you.

As far as I’m concerned, Special K’s approach to nutrition and weight loss is irresponsible and representative of a corporate- and media-endorsed vision that this is the sort of plan that should be followed when one has weight to lose.  Additionally, it depends on and adds to the intense pressure that women endure when it comes to their appearance.  In campaigns that promote diets like this, thinness is equated with success, beauty, and happiness.  In reality, treating your body this way is abusive and dangerous.  Instead of letting cereal companies convince us that this is how we should be eating, we should be educating ourselves and fighting back.  In a country where 10 million women and 1 million men are battling eating disorders, and clinical care for these disorders is costly and hard to access, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assert that Special K and companies with similar “challenges”  are part of the problem, and not the solution.

I’m aware of the fact that I don’t have a huge amount of readers, but I still think it’s possible that we can do something to get the word out about how wrong this is and maybe encourage people to take a second look at things like the Special K challenge, which may seem harmless on the outside.  Please try to share this information with as many people as you can, and, if you’re up to it, join me in a boycott of Special K products.


  1. I just want you to know that I agree wholeheartedly with you, this is a bad plan (the Special K Challenge, that is), and I have posted it to my profile on FB. Special K is all about profits, they are corporate-minded, and they could care less about you and me and everyone else. I hope they go down on this but I doubt they will be affected at all. 😦

  2. The bad thing is they’ve being doing this for years, but in the last few years have added the ‘meal’ bars, etc. You are right, it’s irresponsible. The commercials with the scale are so misleading. They seemingly are about promoting self-confidence and female solidarity, when in all actuality, they are playing on the self consciousness of women. It’s disgusting.

  3. I found your blog through Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point and just wanted to say I completely agree with your analysis. Special K commercials infuriate me, mostly because you could do their plan with any cereal (Captain Crunch? Cookie Crisp? Fruity Pebbles?) and have the same result – which isn’t saying much. Special K isn’t some sort of wonder cereal or food; and as you point out, it’s full of HFCS! Ick!

  4. Very well worded! A few years ago I actually considered this diet, but since I’m not a big cereal person I didn’t go for. Looks like I was lucky because it would have been a bad idea. I’m glad I instead found my way to a diet passed on clean eating and whole foods!

  5. Wow! Incredibly well written. I know that this is a marketing tactic that is very appealing to a lot of women, and it’s nice to know that there are people like you who are looking out for our best interests.

  6. Yeah, you pretty much sum up everything I hate about the Special K “diet” – focus on as few calories as possible, not on the actual physical reasons for consuming a certain number of calories.

    I will never go on a diet that claims I can lose more than two pounds in a week, but sadly, those diets are EVERYWHERE, some claiming you can lose 20 pounds in a month. Well, sure, but SAFELY? Nope.

  7. THank you for posting something about this! It is about time we stand up to the poor quality and quantity of food that we are encouraged to eat.

      1. I want to say that I read something about that on Roni’s blog and how to get rid of them; it is Roni Noone. I don’t remember the address right off hand but you can find it from her other blog, Greenlitebites.com and if you can’t, just send in your question and she will help you :).

  8. Wonderful post! I’ve always wondered about the Special K Challenge. Obviously it was sketchy, but I didn’t realize to what extent. Thanks for all the research 🙂

  9. Great post! Was directed to you by Caitlin at HTP. I am a Registered Dietitian, and am also very frustrated by my diet. My frustration with Special K is deep-rooted, because countless numbers of my patients are brainwashed into thinking that Spec K is a healthy cereal. Simply being low calorie does not equate healthy for me–it has to be made of whole grains and and free of HFCS, in my book.

  10. This post was so well written. It makes me so irate to think that so many people fall into the traps of diets like this. Let’s try real food – whole foods – and see how healthy you get!

  11. I always knew that the Special K plan wasn’t enough food for the day (not even enough variety of food), but to see how you break it down just shines a bright light on how bad the plan actually is.

    Its scary how much marketing and the food industry can trick people into thinking things are healthy for them when it isn’t

  12. Great post. I wholeheartedly agree. It makes me really sad that the media is saturated with so many dangerous diets and fads that set people up for failure, or worse, eating disorders and/or death.

  13. Well, one new reader here, and one who agrees totally about eating whole, nourishing food (I don’t like the taste of cardboard in the morning either, thank you!)

  14. Well written. It’s no different than many typical diets I guess. I used to get upset over stuff like this but now I don’t even bother – if people want to partake in it fine – try doing it for the rest of your life though!

  15. Great job writing this post. I’ve always thought that the Special K diet seemed a little low on the calories, but never took the time to add them up. I never had any plans on trying it, but now I KNOW that I never will!

  16. Ugh, that makes me so annoyed! Those commercials are on all the time. I got a box of their meal bars a while back, hoping for nice grab-and-go breakfast. They were so sickeningly sweet. I used those as a breakfast substitute for a few days, then realized I was still hungry, strongly disliked the sweet taste of the bar, and any real food I would eat would be better for my health and my weight!

  17. I came across your post through Healthy Tipping Point and it instantly drew me in. Thank you so much for bringing this dangerous issue to the forefront. When I read about diets and “challenges” like these that are so highly promoted and publicized that they seem healthy and smart I get incredibly fearful for all the people in danger of developing eating disorders from things like this. I am also recovering from an ED and find posts like these inspiring. I try to bring things like this to people’s attention in my blog and even though I only have a handful of followers I still feel good about getting the word out. Keep it up! You never know who is reading.

  18. I have to show this to a client of mine!

    She’s been starving herself for weeks on a plan simliar to this…all she eats is Special K plain cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner with fruit on the side and then she’ll why she can’t lose weight or why she’s tired all of the time!

    And even though I’ve told her many times that her body is holding on to what she’s got to sustain itself because it’s in starvation mode…she still tries to tell me that “it’s healthy though!”. DEFINITELY going to email this to her, since it’s very well written! THANK YOU.

  19. When I first became interested in losing weight (about 4 years ago) I tried the special K diet. It made me feel really awful.. Dizzy, shaky, deprived. Soon after that is when I decided to read about other types of plans and explore nutrition etc. Just spending a few hours on the computer googling I discovered that eating like that is absolutely not healthy! But as an “average person” it seemed pretty easy and effective. I think you’re absolutely right in saying that it’s irresponsible for the company to promote this diet.

  20. Fantastic post! I saw the blog post you mention and was put off as well. (well, maybe. I saw a blog I read post about attending this event.) This “diet” is beyond harmful -both to your body and your mental image of what a day of food in weight loss mode looks like. Thanks for presenting such a well thought out argument!

  21. Awesome post! So well researched and argued. Love it!

    I have never really paid much attention to the special K diet. I cannot believe it suggests women should eat ONLY 829 calories a day. That is friggin ridiculous and SO unethical and irresponsible of Special K.

  22. Cet article est vraiment exceptionnel, Emilie. Encore une fois, tu as su dire les choses tel quelles doivent être dites et l’attention que tu as mis à faire une longue démonstration est de toute évidence payante. J’admire beaucoup ce travail minutieux et la qualité de ton texte. Bravo!

  23. I completely agree with you! The thing that bothers me about it the most, as you pointed out, is the LOW amount of calories. We don’t need any more pressure!

  24. Wow… this post is getting some huge traffic… for good reason too, you’ve very eloquently outlined a terrible situation that is permeated our society. In my ED treatment we often talk about societal ED… most of mainstream media promotes disordered eating and it’s sad/disturbing/wrong… these corporations need to be called on it, hopefully they’ll stop.

  25. Fantastic post!!! I can’t believe this ‘challenge’ is marketed as a weight loss plan. It sounded awful before I saw the calorie counts. I can’t imagine how hungry people must’ve felt on this “plan”!

  26. I’m so glad someone has finally taken the trouble to list all the things that are wrong with the Special K diet!
    Brilliantly written post!

  27. Uggh I hate this stupid diet.

    Honestly it is dangerous and they should really be ashamed of themselves for trying to market it as healthy. What do you gain when you lose??!? How about a bingeing problem, grouchiness, irritability and low energy? Sounds great, where do I sign up?

  28. As a fitness and nutrition “newbie” I was tricked into thinking that the special K plan would be helpful in jumpstarting weight loss. During the first week of the challenge I almost fainted twice due to low blood sugar. Sadly, I was too conceded with sticking to the plan that I didn’t care. I thought my body just needed to adjust to eating healthy. After getting off the plan my body was so out of whack that I disregarded any healthy eating habits and just ate anything when hungry. Overall, I think the plan was self-harming and poor advertisement.I am happy to report that staying active and finding inspiration through healthy living blogs has been much more productive.

    🙂 Amy

  29. Thank you for writing this post–I completely agree with your assessment of this CRAZY diet plan. As you note, I’ve found that eating whole, fresh foods and meals made from scratch in my own kitchen, is the TRUE way to find a healthy lifestyle. We’re not going to find “health” in a box on the grocery store shelf.

  30. Wholeheartedly agree with everything in this post. The other problem with crash diets like these is that they starve your body’s muscle, causing you to lose it. When the dieter’s weight rebounds (as it inevitably will), she’s going to add more fat than muscle, so her body composition is leaning progressively towards MORE FAT and LESS LEAN MASS with each round of dieting via extreme deprivation.

  31. Very well written! It is so important to look under the surface of the large corporate marketing promotions. They know how to get your “attention” because of all of their resources… but are they really in it for our best interest? Thanks for bringing this information to the table.

  32. Seriously! I tried this “diet” out about 7 years ago when I was young and stupid and I just about died from starvation. I think I lasted a day before I decided I wanted to eat real food. That was the one and only diet I ever tried. Never again I tell you. Losing weight is hard enough and when companies try to trick women into thinking this is gonna work it just makes me so mad. Great post.

  33. Really insightful post! Thank you for taking the time to really explore and explain the Special K diet plan. I see it advertised all over the place and have always thought it’s so unrealistic and truly unhealthy. Thank you for shedding some light on the situation, too!

  34. I tried this diet for a while maybe 4-5 years ago with mild success. I think that while it’s not the best, it DOES teach some healthy eating habits to people whose eating is out of control. It teaches portion control, promotes fruit and veggie consumption, and the cereal (while containing HFCS and unnecessary dairy product) is not that “bad.”

    It’s not good for long term, but for a week jump-start… maybe. Certainly better than cleanse diets or other such “quick fixes.”

  35. wow! i haven’t heard about the special k diet – i guess on this point, i’ll be happy i don’t have a tv – but this plan is ridiculous. as a nutrition student working with low SES and low education populations, these are the exact kind of plans the individuals i work with try to follow. the caloric content is totally inadequate, they end up quitting the plan or “cheating” while on it, and then consider themselves failures and give up on “healthy” eating for weight loss because it’s too hard. it’s infuriating! not to mention the cost of the special k foods, which have a very low calorie/dollar ratio.

    there needs to be some sense of responsibility by the company that they would think twice before advertising such a plan.

  36. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for your wise words and thorough research – this articles touches on say many points for women, health and dieting.

  37. The Special K plan is my soapbox topic of choice at the moment – I can bore anyone about it for quite a while! You’ve managed to explain really eloquently all that is wrong with it – so well done. Besides all you’ve mentioned, eating cereal and cereal bars for 2 meals and snacks for 2 weeks is soooo boring. What inspired me to lose over 50 pounds and maintain for over a year is decovering the pleasure of eating a colourful variety of healthy and interesting foods. Overly sweet cardboard instead of real food – no thanks!

  38. I did this diet about seven years ago when Special K first started it. They didn’t have all the other products then so it was eat cereal with 2/3 cup milk for breakfast and lunch, 2 100 calorie snacks from a list of fruits and vegetables which included olives. Then you had a sensible dinner. It’s main virtue was that it was easy and not disruptive to the rest of my family. In other words I didn’t have to cook two dinners, one for them and one for me. Since that time when I lost about 13 pounds I have had a lot of trouble doing it again. It is just not that appealing to eat so much cereal. You also get really hungry. However what it does force you to do is restrict your calories and that is how you lose weight.

  39. Very well done. It reminds me of the Slim fast diet I did back in high school. I decided that if I want to lose weight, I need a balance of a healthy diet and exercise – not crappy food.

  40. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post! (was directed here by Caitlin at HTP). My roommate recently completed this “challenge” and was pleasantly surprised to have lost several pounds. She is normally a healthy and responsible eater, but got caught up in the “quick fix” idea of the Special K challenge. I was initially jealous of her, but knew that besides the HFCS, it’s an expensive “diet”! It’s so easy to think that those snack packs are a great snack, but they’re really terrible for you. I hope more people read this and avoid any and all diet crazes.

  41. Thank you so much for posting this, well written. I am sick and tired of seeing all these weight loss plans that are just setting people up for failure and are just unhealthy.

  42. good god! i’ve always referred to special k as the anorexics diet (which i know is crass and potentially hurtful to anyone who suffers/suffered from an eating disorder), but i didn’t realize how true it really was. i hope more people see your write up and truly think about what they put in their bodies

  43. THANK YOU for this! I saw your post on Jezebel. In a very well-researched way, said everything I think about Special K. OF COURSE, people would lose weight on this “deit” because they’re eating cereal for every meal! GAHHHHH! It’s so frusterating. So many of people’s food choices are influnced by marketing, “light” food items, lean cuisine and the likes…. actually not healthy for you at all! Try something that’s minimally processed, not full of chemicals and sugar and get back to me!

    Thanks for the very well-thought-out post!

  44. THANKYOU!! i do like the taste of special k, and my eating disorder LOVED it because it was very low in calories, but now that ive been in recovery for my eating disorder since august, i find special k to be so horrible and teaching women the wrong thing. thank you for this post, it really helped me see how bad that really is for my body. =]

  45. My young son laughed his head off when he saw the Special K “diet” for the first time. Even he could figure out that it would lead to over indulging later. And I laughed when they came out with chocolate chip Special K. Whose side are they on any way! Ha ha. Not our side!

  46. I’m on my own journey towards weight loss, I despair when I see people trying these diets only to fail miserably soon afterwards.
    Thank you for writing such an eloquent piece.

  47. I tried it for a month, but leaving out the snack bars. Just having 2 bowls of special K and then dinner. I only lost abour 4/5 pounds! I then tried only 1 bowl of special K a day and dinner. still no joy! I’m now cutting out the special K and replacing it with a banana. I honestly can’t figure out why i’m not losing weight! I’m exercising too and I just don’t see how I can eat any fewer calories than I already am?!!

  48. In fairness to the Special K diet it doesn’t endorse it for any longer than 2 weeks. This is for people who need to lose weight quickly – not necessarily a sustainable programme but even the company states this.

    I’m not a big fan of diets anyway so, to some extent I agree with you. I think a balanced diet and regular exercise is the key to weight loss.

    In my humble opinion if you balance your lifestyle correctly then you should never have to go on a diet.

  49. In fairness to the Special K diet it doesn’t endorse it for any longer than 2 weeks. This is for people who need to lose weight quickly – not necessarily a sustainable programme but even the company states this.

    I’m not a big fan of diets anyway so, to some extent I agree with you. I think a balanced diet and regular exercise is the key to weight loss.

    In my humble opinion if you balance your lifestyle correctly then you should never have to go on a diet.




  50. Hi Emily,

    I just wanted to let you know I read your post and decided not only to boycott Special K products but to contact Kelloggs and let them know how deplorable I think this diet is.

    Thanks and happy running!

  51. Thank YOU for this post! As someone involved in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I am grateful for your insightful words and important observations about the role of industry and the media in fueling the issue of disordered eating.

  52. I’m not promoting the diet, but I am promoting accuracy (having looked into the diet myself last year).

    You are reading the information wrong. If you look up the SW Chili (I just did) it is NOT 309 calories, it is over 550. the 309 calories are the ADDITIONS they tell you to put in to ‘make it a meal’ – i.e. crackers and yogurt. If you click on ‘nutrition information’ under the chili, it is 250 calories. I looked up the nutrient info on yogurt and the crackers. It works out. Add on the 2 recommended servings of fruit in the menu they give you for the day and you have another 150 calories. It may still be a little low, but not nearly as bad as you imply.

    Also – the Special K Multigrain Honey & Oat cereal doesn’t have HFCS.

    There are ways to eat this food in a healthful fashion. But you do have to print out the recipes and not just look at the titles of the foods on the weekly chart.

  53. I couldn’t agree more, I have had constant issues with this plan, as well as Slim Fast, and even, to some extent the whole Nutrisystem plan because that shit is not real food, and even if it’s really to teach “portion control,” it’s hardly realistic once you stop receiving those prepackaged, heat and go meals.

    Why can’t we have more marketing and information about eating REAL foods to be healthy?

  54. First off, this is a great article.

    I actually did the Special K Challenge (which I mistook for a diet) when I was 16, committing to months of relying on Special K products for sustenance. I worked out everyday and the lost the weight, but my eating habits were still horrible. I essentially lived off of candy bars; nary a vegetable passed my lips. While Special K markets their plan as a “challenge”, I’m sure they hope the naive and the young, like myself, will be fooled into making this a lifestyle. Naturally, I gained all of the weight back when I stopped living off of cereal and cereal based products. Though I’m heavier, I’m probably healthier now that I’m eating a variety of foods. I’m also trying to lose weight the right way, and I feel much better now than I ever did while scarfing down bowls of Special K Chocolately Delight cereal.

  55. Most diets end up slowing your metabolism by longer term calorie restriction making it easier to put the weight back on when the diet is done. The Every Other Day Diet plan can easily become a permanent weight loss, weight maintenance!

  56. wow this post has blown up! (that’s awesome, of course) typically i just see these “programs” and ignore them since they are typically just marketing. clearly this one is too since everything they tell you to eat is their own brand… very interesting to break it down and see how non-realistic it really is.

  57. Great post! Caitlin (Healthy Tipping Point) reffered us here, and I must say, the Special K challenge is kinda like a conspericy theory (to take it father obviously). It’s good that people are thinking about this, rather then going with it.

  58. I came across this via Jezebel, and immediately sent it to my best friend, who is in her RD certification internship. She’s been railing against the special K challenge for as long as I’ve known her, and she was pleased to see that people outside of her area of expertise have caught on as well.

    In fact, this preposterous “diet” was one of the things that brought us together in the first place–overhearing some girls in a class talk about it, and my relating how my roommate had tried it as a legitimate weight loss strategy and failed miserably. The girl was on it for the better part of a semester, and frequently went on binges because she was so hungry all the time.

  59. I. Love. This. Honestly, you have said so beautifully something that I just mentioned to my husband last week. The Special K challenge is nothing more than marketing, unhealthy, and incredibly…well, stupid. I’m glad to see you’re getting a lot of positive feedback on this!

  60. It’s corporations such as these that have convinced society that low-calorie automatically means healthy, when (as you’ve described) is far from the case. Thanks for this post!

  61. To be honest, I have always felt that this Special K Challenge thing was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen, but I’m still glad that you took the time to research this article and write it, for anyone out there who doesn’t understand that. And it’s very exciting to see the response. Just awesome!

  62. Totally agree with you about this diet, on both a personal and professional level (dietetics). Quick fixes often are not balanced nor safe in the long term, or the short term with certain health conditions.

  63. Hi Emily,

    After reading your post, I wrote a strongly worded email to Kellogs. Below is their response.



    Thank you for taking the time to send along your concerns about Kellogg’s® Special K® Challenge program. We appreciate the opportunity to reply to your comments.

    Kellogg Company’s nutrition team worked closely with researchers at leading universities to develop and test the Special K® Challenge to ensure that it would offer consumers a safe weight loss plan and a healthy, well-balanced diet. The Challenge is limited to two weeks and is not intended to be a long-term weight loss program.

    The Challenge is designed to kickoff a commitment to healthy living. It is a two-week nudge to get you on the right track in the short-term, and help build the confidence and motivation to continue with a healthier lifestyle.

    We try to ensure that our advertising sends the message that eating a healthy diet, while engaging in moderate exercise, are the keys to maintaining a healthy body weight. A healthy eating plan, like the Special K® Challenge contains a variety of foods from all the food groups. The plan is to start your day either with a serving of Special K® cereal (any variety) with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit or one serving of Kellogg’s® Special K® waffle with 2 tablespoons lite syrup and fruit. If you choose Special K® Low Fat Granola, chose either 2/3 cup skim milk or fruit. For your second meal, you can eat either a Special K® Protein Meal Bar (any variety) or another serving of your favorite Special K® cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit. You can also try one of the Kellogg’s™ Special K™ Protein Shakes at either meal. You should eat your third meal as you normally do.

    In addition, enjoy two snacks a day of any Kellogg’s® Special K® line of snacks, including Special K™ Protein Snack Bars, Special K2O™ Protein Water Mixes, Special K® Cereal Bars, Special K Bliss® Bars, and Special K® Crackers. We encourage consuming fruits and vegetables for additional snacks and drinking beverages as you normally do. We also encourage regular exercise because exercise is an important part of weight management and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

    We hope this helps address your concerns. You can read more about the Special K® Challenge at http://www.specialk.com. We will share your comments with our marketing group and nutritionists as we create nutrition programs in the future.


    Christina Calleros
    Consumer Specialist
    Consumer Affairs


    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Wow, that’s awesome that you wrote to Kellogg’s! And thanks for sharing the response you got. I know I found it to be an interesting read, as I think a lot of people will. It touches on a lot of the stuff that I discussed with the director of nutrition marketing when I spoke with her on the phone, notably the fact that the Challenge is meant really to jump-start a weight loss plan, and that their focus is on introducing women to a healthy lifestyle, and showing them ways to maintain a healthy body weight. One thing I mentioned on the phone was that this message, to me (and, judging by the comments I’ve received here and on Jezebel), is really lost in the medium. When the Challenge is presented in print and tv advertising, and even on the website, the focus seems to be on losing weight more than anything else–this is, I think, what women think of when they see conventionally attractive and thin models proudly pulling on a pair of jeans as though to indicate, “Yes! They finally fit again!” To really send a message about healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle, I think Special K should try using models with a variety of body types (like the Dove ad campaigns have done) to show that healthy does not come in one size.

      I would love to share this letter from Special K in a blog post–would that be okay with you? I’d also like to invite you to write a little bit about what motivated you to write to them. Let me know what you think.

      Best wishes,

  64. This may have been mentioned in the numerous comments above, but the thing that bothers me the most about this campaign is the tag line “What will you gain when you loose?” This indicates to the target of the ad that loosing weight will make you a different person. This is not true. Much like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, you don’t “gain” anything that wasn’t already there is the first place.

  65. Very well said! I am a formerly “morbidly obese” woman who took control of her life, but in a healthy way. I eat a healthy diet and have lost 125 pounds (I lost with Weight Watchers). My biggest pet peeve are fad diets or severely restrictive plans that are 1. unhealthy or 2. totally unlivable. It leads to failure in a weight loss plan. Sure, we can all lose weight by restricting, but are we going to keep it off? NO! I eat Special K cereal (love the cinnamon pecan), but I also eat a piece of fruit, add some turkey bacon on the side and some kind of dairy (milk in the cereal or a yogurt). Well rounded, include my major food groups, I am satisfied, and I CAN EAT THIS WAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! Could I live on Special K alone? nope. Would I fail at losing weight if I did? Yep! I got my life back in a healthy way and my hope is that women will choose a plan that works for them, but not one that will lead them to failure or health issues.

  66. Thank you for the article. It’s unconscionable that anyone is advocating that a diet of less than 800 calories a day is healthy. You are so right: it is abusive. Following it is going to set someone up for metabolic damage. I honestly do not understand how they can be so irresponsible.

  67. Well said! I often rant about the absurdity of Special K on the blog and tweeted about this excellent post the other day. As you say, if we keep on about it more and more people will know. Keep up the good work.

  68. Pingback: On being round
  69. This was very helpful for any health questions i had about the diet. I am 20 5’5 and currently 147lbs yet with a slender body type. I actually did the special K chalenge with a somewhat effortless workout routine in place when i was 19 and weighed around 143. The special K challenge really is if you want to shed a few extra pounds in a quick amount of time. I lost 7 pounds with the special K diet and Loved it! =) It encouraged me to workout more however lol i fell off my dietary plan due to some stress and loss of my mother and gained more than my weight back, but anywho my point was that the diet can also be encouragement for the right person but should definately not be turned into a lifestyle thats no way to live!! lol

  70. i’ve considered doing this diet but never tried it. one reason i haven’t is because when i eat special k red berries in the morning for breakfast, by the time lunch rolls around, my blood sugar is so low i feel like i’m going to pass out. i’m 5’8 and could definitely stand to lose 20 pounds or so but i refuse to starve myself. and judging by how my body feels after i just have the cereal for breakfast, that’s exactly what i’d be doing.

  71. that whole “what will you gain when you lose” slogan sends out the most horrific message to women. the thought that you have to lose weight in order to gain confidence or a a boyfriend or the ability to walk onto the beach in a swimsuit with a smile on your face? it’s ludicrous. almost as ludicrous as this special k diet. thanks for writing this. more women (and men) need to realize that crash diets are not the answer.

  72. “But in order to bring that measly number up to something healthy, you are going to have to eat more fruits and vegetables than you can handle.”

    Girl, you haven’t seen me eat fruit. Or carrots. Or any number of non-zero calorie “raw” foods. Not that I’m on the wagon with this diet, but it is really, really easy to overeat the good foods, too. *hmph*

  73. I think you guys all need to relax…I honestly dont think any corporation cares more about ppl than their money…the Special K challenge worked great for me it helped give me the boost i needed to be motivated to do my weight loss journey and i do get full on these foods your stomach takes some time to shrink and adjust you cant base so much on a few days. As far as the unhealthy caloric intake, i doubt very much that people have a healthy calorie intake whether it be to much or to little its a 2 week plan ppl relax!

  74. As far as the slogan goes you do gain when you lose anyone who has had a weight problem or conquered one knows you gain tremendous confidence when you lose weight! Watch the biggest loser ok losing weight has amazing psycological gains as well as physical. this slogan doesnt claim its the only way to be confident or look good or “get a boy friend” it says what you gain when you lose straight forward and most of us gain alot when we lose! Obviously some of you have never struggled with your weight…

  75. The newest special k ad shows the woman’s weight settling at 103 on her scale. I work with mostly women, some who are active and fit, others who are not but none of them weigh close to that. To choose that low number to put on the scale in the commercial is irresponsible in my view. Wow.

    1. I agree! I feel fortunate not to have a television when I hear about commercials like this–Special K commercials are especially insidious and have *always* relayed a nasty, body-shaming message about weight, food, and hunger.

      Thanks for your comment!

  76. I was thinking of going on the diet, but for all the wrong reasons, which is another story, my husband was against it and wants me to eat differently, adding healthy foods for comfort food and to exorcize even if it is just a daily walk with him. He also told me I don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Reading your article helped. Thank you

  77. The reason I started the Special K, wasn’t to lose weight, for starters I’m a guy. I wasn’t eating breakfast or missing meals because of my work habits was so weird and when I did eat it was highly fatty foods like fast foods. So is still unhealthy to drink the Special K shakes or meal bars, when I would have had a corndog or burger if I ate at all? Yes, I’m big by the doctor way of measuring, but I’m not large. I thought having a meal was better then not having one or eating fast foods. I can’t have a normal meal where I work, but these protein shake I can get easily.

  78. Well, toot my horn!! I told all dem young’uns who be always runnin’ around ’bout this newfangled diet thing, and I still cant believe how cray-cray this is. In other news, the end times are near folks, so be sure to bury your gold!! And remember this great words from da talkin triangle man in the sky:
    Reality is an illusion
    The Universe is a hologram
    Buy gold

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