Oh, Special K…

So, the people at Special K think you’re stupid. Or at least, they are hoping you are. They are running multiple campaigns to imply that they believe in body acceptance and not body shaming. I had wanted to believe, at first, that maybe they were changing their ways. But… they aren’t.

Here’s the first in a series of campaigns they’re doing.

Red flag in the video? “We believe it’s a barrier to managing their weight.” Ah. Okay. So, right off the bat, though they are saying “fat talk” is harmful, they are also clearly still stating we need to “manage” our weight.

Then there is this one.

“Not seeing the number is so freeing,” says one woman in that video. I agree with her, to be honest. But the problem is… Special K is very, very much still using these campaigns to promote weight loss and dieting. So, I guess it’s okay to not see the number on the scale or your pants, just so long as that number is also shrinking? Or being “managed?” What does “managed” even mean to Special K?

Then they, disappointingly, managed to recruit Tyra Banks. Tyra has admitted she doesn’t “believe in diets,” and has been very body positive. So, I’m not sure why she’s signing up with a campaign so full of shameless mixed messages and manipulation.

The final nail in the proverbial coffin is this New Year’s resolution inspired print ad, which I scanned after finding it in the January/February edition of Cooking Light (a magazine I will not be renewing my subscription to, but that’s a story for another post).

Scan0013

At first glance, I was like… whoa! That’s actually not a bad ad for them. But, then I began to digest the mixed messages, and realized. Not only is this the same old dieting BS I’ve come to expect from Special K, it’s manipulative, dishonest and probably more harmful than their usual run-of-the-mill ads for it. The concept that you can focus on a “word” and not a “number” seems great! The word “JOY” on the scale seems positive, but then I saw the lower left corner, and the “What will you gain when you lose?” tagline.

“Most anything is possible when you focus on the positive.” That sounds good, right? But here’s the problem. This entire campaign, while very cleverly conceived, is insidiously manipulative. You’re telling women to accept their bodies and not shame them but also clearly saying they need to “manage” them, and making it obvious that the goal here is still weight loss. It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising to me, given the history of this brand.

You are, of course, allowed to diet. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s what you feel is best for your body… by all means go for it. We get to make our own choices. I am personally anti-dieting because there is nothing to support that long term weight loss of any statistical significance is possible for the vast majority of people. I prefer to follow the Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating approaches. I worked with an eating disorder therapist for over 18 months on IE specifically, and in the past few months I have been working to incorporate a more focused HAES approach, too.

I feel that even if everything the media and $60 billion dollar a year dieting industry want me to believe about the “dangers” of being fat are true, there’s nothing to suggest I can be anything other than fat. That includes over 20 years of dieting vigorously, during which I repeatedly lost and gained weight (always gaining more than I lost). For more information, check out Ragen Chastain’s excellent post on this subject. Scroll to the bottom if you’re only interested in links to various studies and articles that support these claims.

Special K wants you to believe they have your best interests at heart, but the reality is they have their best interests (and bank accounts) at heart. I personally find it disappointing because I actually love (some of) their products, but I just can’t support a company that is sending such horribly mixed messages to consumers. The ultimate goal with these campaigns is to get you to sign up for a “Special K plan” which recommends replacing two meals a day with 2 of their products a day to “lose up to 6 pounds in two weeks!” While the plans appear to be free to sign up for, obviously they still profit because you’re buying their cereals, snack bars, water, protein shakes, etc.

However, all of this is my perspective. Yours may differ, and that’s cool. If you want to do a Special K diet plan, I’ll respect your right to do just that (or any diet), as long as you grant me that same courtesy. FYI: Saying you’re “just concerned” about my “health” is not respecting my my right to not diet. I’m fully aware I am fat and that various medical professionals who don’t know me (and have never examined me), the dieting industry and the mass media would have me believe I am a ticking time bomb. I’m very much aware of the fact that I’m “morbidly obese” on the (ridiculously used) BMI charts (and I have been since I was probably 13). I likely know more about nutrition than most so-called “normal” people. For one thing, I spent seven weeks in an eating disorder hospital when I was 15, and worked extensively with dietitians, not only during that time, but later in my life. My personal physician – who has worked with me for 7+ years now – supports fully my efforts at IE and HAES. So, you’re just going to have to trust me to make my own decisions about my health, based on what I feel is best for me, not only physically but emotionally. There are a multitude of reasons why my weight loss attempts failed repeatedly, aside from the most obvious one of long-term weight loss fails for the vast majority of people. I have two medical conditions that make weight loss even harder for me than it is for the average person. On top of that, I have fibromyalgia and live with chronic, daily, constant pain. Exercise is not only excruciating, it’s actually harmed me. I’m currently working on finding a form of exercise I can do, because I miss being more active.

The bottom line is this… you get to decide how you want to pursue health, or IF you want to. You don’t have to, and neither do I. I actually do want to be healthier. But trying to force my body to be what it isn’t has never made it healthier, and it creates emotional unhealthiness for me. Regardless of whether or not you are pro-dieting, if the mixed messages in the Special K ads irritate you, let them know about it here.

~JK

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The dangers of “thinspiration”

If you google “thinspiration” you’ll be linked to dozens of pages… tumblr, Pinterest, blogs… it’s mind boggling. Whether or not people want to admit it, the research is pretty clear that diets will ultimately fail for 95% of people. You can read more about that on my favorite website, Dances With Fat. This post is a good one as far as diet “success” rates go, but just search Ragen’s blog. She is a brilliant researcher, and she has a wealth of information about this topic. For a lucky minuscule minority, long term weight loss is possible. For most of us, short term weight loss will happen as a result of any diet, “lifestyle change” or even just the simple adaptation of healthier habits, such as eating more whole foods, veggies, fruits, etc and exercising regularly. But even with the maintenance of those healthier habits, most of us will inevitably regain the weight. Since so many are only adapting those habits for the sake of weight loss, the habits are often abandoned once the weight loss part fails.

“Thinspiration” is a concept I once bought into heavily (no pun intended). There are many variants on this idea. Some people look to those who’ve lost a lot of weight, and who have posted before and after pictures. Others just find any thin person and use pics of that person as “thinspiration.” There are so many problems with this type of behavior that I almost don’t know where to begin.

First off, comparing your body to anyone else’s is a dangerous game. There are a lot of companies out there counting on you to do just this, in hopes you’ll buy their products to make your hair look like X movie star’s hair, or your lashes like X model’s lashes. This goes even more so for the diet industry. Just think of all the celebrity spokespeople we see… Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, Sarah Ferguson, Sara Rue (who famously lost weight after being a rare successful plus-sized actress, and went on to be a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig). Never mind the fine print that cautions us that “results are not typical,” most of us have had moments of desperately wanting to that success to be our own. But our bodies are incredibly unique, and our genetic makeup is so varied. There is a real truth that few want to recognize, which is that body type is largely genetic. Some people can fight that, at least for a while. Most of us can’t, not long term. There are also things we’ll never be able to change, without surgery. My grandmother, mother and I all have identical body types. Short limbs, long torsos, big boobs, flat butts, no real waists and we’re prone to weight gain in the stomach. Nothing I do could change these things, unless I wanted butt implants or boob reduction surgery. Even if I’d ever managed to lose every last pound, I was never going to have the tight, taut flat stomach because despite the many fitness videos that try to claim otherwise, most fitness experts agree that spot reduction is not possible. I was thin once upon a time. I was told repeatedly by everyone, including my own family, that I was fat… but I wasn’t. I did, however, still have a belly. It was never flat, even when I was 5’2″ and 98 pounds, as in this picture.

Easter 1986

Just as you can’t know anything about a fat person simply by looking at her, other than the fact that they are fat, we don’t know anything about a thin person just by looking at her except that she’s thin. Society has badgered us into thinking this is the only acceptable way to look, and even worse has convinced us that this is the only way to be healthy, but it’s just not that cut and dry. We don’t know how or why that person is thin. Maybe she’s just naturally thin, and fortunate to be in the most desired societal weight range. Maybe she’s battling an eating disorder. Maybe she has a chronic illness. Maybe she’s engaging in unhealthy lifestyle choices to maintain weight loss. There are so many “maybes” it makes my head spin. The point is… idealizing a body type is just as dangerous as demonizing a body type. You simply cannot know, just by looking at anyone, that they are healthy. You just can’t.

The next problem with “thinspiration” comes when using before and after pics. You are buying into the idea that many people promote themselves when they are successful at doing anything. I call this the “if I can do it, anyone can!” myth. It’s such a nice idea, and it often comes from a place of good intentions, but it’s simply not true. If anyone could do anything someone else has done, we’d have a lot more gold medal Olympians. We’d have far more people who have climbed Everest. Hell, why stop at Everest… anyone who wanted to could climb all the Seven Summits. People like Lance Armstrong wouldn’t have to resort to doping to win because they could just ride on the “someone else did it, so can I!” train instead. Just because someone else has successfully lost weight does not mean you can, and it’s incredibly damaging to one’s self esteem to buy into that… because if you’re not in that 5% of long term weight loss success stories, you feel like a failure. I know. I was that person. I bought the hype. I actually think one of the worst things we do to children is tell them they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. I understand the rationale behind it, but it’s just not true. We can’t ALL be astronauts. We can’t ALL be lawyers. We can’t ALL be thin.

If you want to try to lose weight, that is absolutely your right. You have every right to pursue whatever goals you want in life. Don’t let me, or anyone else stop you from trying, as long as it’s what YOU truly want. But please… do not look at other people as “thinspiration.” Your journey is your own. Your successes – which won’t necessarily come in the form of weight loss – are also your own. I’d never dream of telling someone not to try to lose weight. It’s your body and your choice to make, and ultimately if looking at pictures of thin people somehow inspires you, well then okay. Just as long as you’re realistic about it, so as not to set yourself up for disappointment and the sense of having failed. When you consider the facts, you’re a totally normal person, not a failure, if dieting doesn’t give you the long term weight loss you desire.

Whatever your goals are, whether it’s to lose weight, or to adopt the healthy habits that are part of Health At Every Size or to make no changes at all, I encourage you to look in the mirror tonight and say “I’m worthy of love from myself and those around me.” Every body is worthy… regardless of shape or size.

~JK