Special K Can DIAF

If I had any true power, I’d wage a damned holy war on Kellogg’s for its Special K products alone. Seriously, you all, I would be in full mad scientist mode right now developing some formula to nuke Special K right off the supermarket shelves, and I’d do it wearing blue rubber gloves and with an intense, head-tilted-back mwahahahahaha!

Why the rage all of a sudden? Well, I found myself in the cereal aisle about a month ago. I wanted to get the Sugar Frosted Coco Bombs, but then I saw that Special K was on sale. Oh, what the hell, I thought, I’m not a child but a grown woman and plopped a box of Special K Chocolatey Delight in my basket. For the record, there is nothing chocolatey nor delightful about this cereal. It was awful. There’s this distinct, unpleasant metallic taste to Special K that no amount of waxy, faux chocolate can make up for. Do millions of women actually enjoy eating what tastes like nickels? I’m almost positive that at the end of the production line, someone stands grating metal directly into the boxes.

The next time I was at the store, I went back to the cereal aisle. I’m convinced Special K is trying to take over the world. It was bad enough when there was one variety and their slogan was that terrible “you can’t pinch an inch”. What a bunch of crap that was, eh? According to Special K, I am in dire need of their special diet. But now there are cereal bars, meal bars, snack bars, protein water, protein drinks, crackers, low fat granola, 8 cereal flavors (all of which leave a metallic aftertaste!) and their very own website designed to help you get skinny.

Trawling back through nearly forty years of vintage ads, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one Special K commercial that hasn’t made me want to hurl things at the television, write letters and boycott, with the exception of this one from 1971, which seems like some beautiful (heteronormative) alternate reality.

After my regrettable Special K purchase and the first gag-inducing bowl, I had the television on and up popped a post-holiday Special K commercial. We all know how diet commercials start up the very moment the holidays are over, don’t we? I can’t find this one online, and be thankful. In it, a woman sits with her small daughter having a tea party. There’s merry holiday music playing. The woman stands up, and the child-sized chair she is sitting in comes with her. Yes, her ass is too big for a child-sized chair! You know what that means? Special K challenge time for you, you lard butt!

Lesson: Women’s butts must not ever outgrow their five-year-old’s toy furniture.

There is danger lurking everywhere, ladies. The vending machine at work could get you!. Your male coworker’s head could turn into a popcorn popper!. That pint of chocolate ice cream you bought with every intention of eating will begin talking to you in a creepy, seductive voice and then you’ll remember you only bought it so you could NOT give into that temptation and eat a bowl of yucky cereal instead. Whatever it is you think you see, becomes a piece of food to you! And food is bad.

Lesson: Women need to fear all food but Special K, because it has issued an offensive attack on us and is a sneaky, sneaky beast set to ruin our skinny lives, or dreams of skinny lives.

Please note, you should also be afraid of having your photo taken and really worry about trying on a pair of jeans.

And your bikini wants to eat your face.

There have been infrequent inclusions of men in Special K ads, but you don’t want to forget this product is really only for women.

Lesson: Women take and take and take, but don’t ever give.

My very favorite Special K ad at the moment is the one with the mommy making a cake with her kid. Cue the scary music as she empties the batter into the pan and is left holding a bowl filled with leftover batter. RESIST THE TEMPTATION, LADY! YOU WILL GET FATTTTTTT! Eat Special K instead. It’s so much better than delicious, delicious cake batter.

Lesson: Mommy must make the cake for her precious loved ones, but she must not enjoy a fingerful of cake batter for fear of the death-fat that will instantly produce. Also implicit is that she will not be eating the finished cake product, either.

Do you see, THL readers, just how insidious Special K is and why I hate it so? This shit has been going on for forty years. The problem is, I’ve exhausted myself too much with all this ranting to start that damned war. Instead, I think I’d better take that batch of cookies out of the oven. The one I didn’t bake for my children, because I have none. The one I didn’t bake for my SO, because I am single. The one I am not bringing to work, because I barely tolerate most of my coworkers and they don’t deserve cookies. The one I plan to eat, one cookie at a time, all by myself.

PS, I licked the bowl.


  1. scarlett says

    Now, I would totally buy a brand of cookie dough with an ad campaign based on those two last pars. SBG’s Cookie Dough: Because You Deserve It.

  2. amymccabe says

    I’ve always found Special K commercials a bit disturbing. Much like way too many commercials focused on dieting, they use already skinny ladies and imply they are too fat. I don’t have issues with foods aimed at helping you lose weight, but when you imply skinny little things are in need of losing inches-inches!-off their skinny little waists…well it is no wonder we have an epidemic of eating disorders.

  3. The Other Patrick says

    Wow, I didn’t know Special K was targeted at women specifically (I don’t have American advertising AND I don’t watch TV). That sounds enervating.

    And I like Coco Pops, which, if you don’t have them, are like rice crispies but with chocolate, or Toppas, or better yet real Muesli.

  4. says

    And your bikini wants to eat your face.

    I’m so glad I didn’t have herbal tea in my mouth when I read this, because I’d been chuckling (in an “angry, but you’ve gotta laugh” kind of way) all through the article, but that one would’ve made me spray the monitor.

    Then I watched the commercial, and in little letters at the bottom, it says:

    “BMI must be 25 or over. Not suitable for under 18s.”

    It’s a “Special K Challenge” where you eat Special K for TWO MEALS A DAY for 2 weeks, and lose an inch off your waist. Fuck that shit, it’s PURE CARBS! Yes, bodies that handle carbs better than fat might lose a bit, but a LOT of people do better eating fat than carbs. And if you’re one of them, this diet could actually slow your metabolism.

    I think I have enough energy to help you wage that war, SBG. Let’s meet in the secret bat cave and make our odious plans.

  5. Anemone says

    Great rant!

    I used to like Special K, back when I could still digest milk. It snapped, crackled, popped way better than Rice Krispies. I was young and innocent then, and not bothered* by ridiculous commercials. Why does she have that chocolate ice cream in the freezer if she isn’t planning on eating it at some point???

    *And yet I was overweight at the time. Perhaps the obliviousness of youth?

  6. Katran says

    I have a love/hate relationship with Special K. When I was growing up, my family did not eat sugary breakfast cereal, so it was that, corn flakes, or Cheerios. My dad told me that the K in Special K stood for my name, so I ate it, and it’s been what I’ve eaten for breakfast (original flakes only!) pretty much every day since I was 8.

    If I piled up all the Special K boxes I’ve gone through, it would be enough to build me a house, I’m sure. Damn! If only I had thought of that. In any case, I find it satisfyingly airy and crunchy and have perfected the way to eat a large bowl of it without it getting soggy. (In Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson writes about 4 paghes on the perfect way to eat Cap’n Crunch, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t the only person in the world crazy enough to write a love letter to a cereal.)

    It brings joy to my mornings. HOWEVER, I hate the boxes. I hate the marketing. I hate everyone who sees the box asking me if I’m on a diet. Their promos suck (except the one where I can get a coupon for a discount on jeans, because who doesn’t like cheaper pants?) and their “Special K diet” is ridiculous. I eat about three times as much as their suggestions for each meal in one sitting. I’m happy with my weight, but I’m sure I could lose weight on their diet because it would be like eating NOTHING for breakfast and NOTHING for lunch, and then I’d find myself wanting to stab everyone I knew (or maybe just eat them) by the time 5 pm rolled around.

    So it’s a tough call. But also a good thing I haven’t saved all my boxes to build a house, or else looking at the backs of them would drive me to insanity.

    I feel like this is a cereal that there should be a generic version of. It’s popular enough, so why can’t I find a store brand? I hate forking over money on boxes of cereal that take me about 4 days to go through, so I wait until there’s a blowout sale and buy 10 boxes at a time. That’s probably a bit overkill, but if I don’t have my cereal in the morning, I get surly. (I wonder if they put an addictive ingredient in…)

  7. sbg says

    Scarlett – for the record, the recipe I use is awesome. I am trying to cut back on carbs/processed flours and sugars, but I cannot seem to give up cookies entirely. Nay, I refuse!

    Amy, yes! It gives these ads such an aura of, I don’t know, urgency and fearmongering. They’re saying “you can always be (and should!) be thinner” without saying it out loud. Actually, no, some of them are saying it out loud. *glares at Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and NutriSystem* Between this and the 27 year old women hawking anti-wrinkle creme, I get my rage on.

    Other Patrick, yeah, it is now exclusively a “women’s cereal”, and the primary benefit is implied weight loss. Nice. I’m a Honey Nut Cheerios gal, myself. Except I get the store brand from a place called Trader Joe’s. :)

    Jenn, yes – and let’s not forget that you could, if you wanted to eat only cereal products, find quite a few alternate cereals that will fulfill the same role as Special K in this challenge and not taste like nickels. Seriously, though, even taking into account the carbs, who eats an actual recommended serving size of cereal? (Special K has a handy measuring cup so you don’t exceed like the moo-cow you are!) If you do eat just a recommended serving size, I guarantee you two bowls replacing your meals will leave your stomach achingly empty.

    Same bat time, same bat channel? I’ll bring the pie. Every master plan is better with pie.

    Anemone, I seem to recall Special K used to taste like Rice Krispies, actually, back when I was a kid and my mom had a coupon for it. Now it tastes like ass. I am not exaggerating. It is dreadful. ITA about the ice cream, also. Why buy it if it will result in you angsting about the fat and calories, and turning to cereal as a saviour.

  8. Ra-chan says

    Katran, I don’t know where you live, but the grocery store Kroger (QFC in some states) makes a pretty tasty generic Special K, (still annoyingly called “Active Life,” though.. interestingly enough I eat it while sitting on the couch not moving). The consistency is a little different from Special K, but I still like it a lot. And yes, I don’t have to support Kellog’s annoying ad campaigns.

    I enjoyed this rant, though personally I think I want to wage a war against Yoplait or Danon yogurts first! :p

  9. Bluedove says

    I used to eat the cereal bars, but stopped because it was pointless. They aren’t nutritious enough or tasty or filling. I don’t see the commercials, as I’ve stopped watching TV for the most part.

  10. lilacsigil says

    Much like way too many commercials focused on dieting, they use already skinny ladies and imply they are too fat.

    Yes, because shaming actually fat women and telling them they need to change their bodies by {insert inappropriate and unhealthy way to spend money here} is totally fine!

    I don’t watch commercial TV so I don’t see these ads, but it all sounds like the opposite of healthy eating to me. I promise, once you get rid of the idea of “naughty” foods, you don’t just eat cake batter all day.

  11. says

    I promise, once you get rid of the idea of “naughty” foods, you don’t just eat cake batter all day.

    That’s actually a really good point. Dieting marketing uses a stark either/or contrast to scare us: either you’re exactly on your healthy eating plan down to the last calorie, or you are dipping fried chicken in melty pistachio ice cream and washing it down with a six pack. What about all that gray area, where you say, “Eh, screw it, I’m really craving chocolate, so I’m going to have a Hershey miniature” and you do, and then it’s back to your regularly scheduled healthy eating habits?

    There ARE people who can’t indulge a little without it turning into a binge from hell. But I believe that’s a psychological issue, not a physiological one, and as you suggested, it has much to do with the perception of “naughtiness” in eating certain foods.

    By reinforcing this false dichotomy, diet marketing is contributing to psychological eating issues, and that’s where eating disorders come from. They probably know this – they have to have figured it out on some level over all these years. They’re preying on the psychologically vulnerable.

    • littlem says

      There ARE people who can’t indulge a little without it turning into a binge from hell. But I believe that’s a psychological issue, not a physiological one

      Actually, it can be a little of both.

      Your (universal “your”) brain needs fat, and fructose and simple carbs can mess with your serotonin balance, if that’s something to which you’re genetically prone — so if you’re dieting and depriving yourself of foods with fat in them and generally starving yourself by undereating, then you get just the first whiff of simple carbs + sugar + fat (COOKIEZ) can send you right over the edge. It’s reactive.

      Hormones can also help. When PMSing, even a mango has been known to set off a monster sugar binge.

        • littlem says

          I really do think it can be a bit of both.

          AISYK, stress hormones can do a number on the autonomic nervous system, so what we think about a situation can push us to stress eat/compulsively eat/binge, especially if there’s no other stress relief outlet.

          Then again, just like there are those of us more genetically prone to alcohol and nicotine addiction, some are also more prone to food addiction — simple carbs especially b/c they flood the nervous system with the serotonin, thus (temporarily) alleviating stress — than others, and it takes a fairly radical dietary change to suffuse the physiological reaction, let alone break the addiction.

          /knows too much about this

  12. sbg says

    Yes, because shaming actually fat women and telling them they need to change their bodies by {insert inappropriate and unhealthy way to spend money here} is totally fine!

    lilacsigil, there’s an ad I couldn’t remember as being a “Special K Challenge” promo or a pimp for NutriSystem which has a woman flat out saying she is doing [insert program here] to lose ten pounds so her little daughter can be proud of her (the daughter is in the ad as well, playing at her feet).

    WTF?! W.T.F.

    Talk about shaming. Baby can’t be proud of mommy unless she’s ten pounds lighter. o.O

  13. sbg says


    Yes! There are plenty of other healthy, tasty food options if you so choose to restrict your diet this way. Honestly.

    PS to Katran, I was being flip. I actually bought three varieties of Special K in January specifically to determine if they all had that unpleasant metal taste, and they did, but none of what I bought included the original. Perhaps that formula is just fine and it’s just the other seven varieties that taste appalling.

  14. AmyMcCabe says

    Yes, because shaming actually fat women and telling them they need to change their bodies by {insert inappropriate and unhealthy way to spend money here} is totally fine!

    It certainly isn’t and I never meant to imply it was. What I was meaning to highlight is the message they give: That you can never be skinny enough. “5’7″ 115 pounds = moo cow fat!” says these ads. It sends horrible messages to each and every woman out there, regardless of their weight.

  15. says

    I read you the same way, Amy. Additionally, I wonder if the people making ads with a slim actress portraying the “fatty who needs a diet” do so because they think we’d all vomit if they showed an actual plump/fat person on the TV.

  16. Katran says

    sbg- It’s ok. I’ve tried some of the other varieties and have noticed they don’t use the same kind of flake. (Which is why I don’t eat them.) I figured they had to do something to make them more robust so that the fruit would rehydrate or whatever. Maybe that meant they gave the flakes metallic skeletons. 😉

    The only TV commercial I’ve ever seen for the cereal was for the chocolate one, and given how little chocolate there actually is in the cereal, I was utterly unconvinced that this was a cereal I needed in my life to satisfy those SINFUL, SINFUL chocolate cravings I have. (So glad that food is such a pressing moral issue, ya know?)

    Ra-chan- There’s no Kroger or Kroger equivalent in my area, but next time I go somewhere that has one, I’ll totally check that out, thanks.

  17. says

    The one that weirded me out most was the cake batter one. Like, lady, if this cereal is so damn good, and that cake’s so shitty, why in God’s name are you feeding it to your CHILD? Unless this cereal is more about self-deprivation than maintenance of health. Otherwise, kids LOVE breakfast for dinner! It rocks.

    I mean, I’m a bran girl myself. Plain bran flakes, or apple-cinnamon oatmeal, I was a happy kid. But you can believe I was a no-napkin hand-licker when it came to chocolate, I ate (and still do, gasp!) full-fat and -sugar ice cream when I want it, and I’ll sit on the floor before sitting in a chair meant for under-four-footers. Especially a chair with arms. What am I, Gulliver? I’m gonna help these anklebiters tie me down? Uh-UH, no ma’am.

  18. sbg says

    The only TV commercial I’ve ever seen for the cereal was for the chocolate one, and given how little chocolate there actually is in the cereal, I was utterly unconvinced that this was a cereal I needed in my life to satisfy those SINFUL, SINFUL chocolate cravings I have.

    The wax…er, chocolate sinks to the bottom of the bowl and is just not good. It’s certainly not a good alternative to chocolate ice cream. 😉

  19. sbg says

    nijireiki, I think it is about self-deprivation, under the guise of getting to eat “the good, tasty stuff which is neither good nor tasty”. Because I really can’t see how eating half a cup of Special K twice a day coupled with a carefully monitored actual meal is a maintainable, healthy diet for most of the population.

  20. MsFeasance says

    The one I hate even more is Campbell’s Select Harvest Light, in whose commercial it’s suggested that eating 310 calories per meal is far too much; and 80 is preferable. 80 calories per meal. (Of course, Campbell’s followup behavior on Twitter didn’t exactly cover them in glory, either.)

  21. sbg says

    I LOLed at the finger-cutting tweet – if only because I gouged a huge chunk out of one of my knuckles on one of those pop-top soup cans myself. It took a month to heal, I kid you not and bled like CRAZY. Campbell’s is now a sworn enemy of mine as well.

    There’s sure no shortage of ad campaigns designed to tell women how they need to count every calorie, be aware of every fat gram, etc.

    Like those dreadful Dannon Light and Fit commercials with Heidi Klum. I get so squicked out every time it’s aired. I DO NOT WANT TO WATCH SOMEONE DO THAT TO A YOGURT CUP EVER AGAIN.

    /scarred for life

  22. Casey says

    I like Special K with dried strawberries okay, even if my foray into eating it in childhood was due to problematic reasons (my mom yelled at me for being fat and I had to lose weight, she/we honestly thought I could lose a pant size by eating this stuff for 2 weeks straight), I enjoy eating it when I get burnt out on sugary stuff like Lucky Charms and I feel like something crunchy and roughage-y.

    Hey, are Nutri-Grain bars property of Kellog’s? ‘Cuz I think they have worse ads than Special K (they at least give me worse guilt-trips than Special K does), it’s the “Choices” ad where the woman eats a Nutri-Grain bar for breakfast as opposed to a donut and how she’s NOT a sad lazy slob if she eats the healthful thing, YECCH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjMfzWWKRZU

    • sbg says

      My mom never yelled at me. She chose the equally hurtful passive-aggressive route: Do you really think you should eat that? or I’ve noticed your jeans are getting snug.

      Thanks, Ma! Pass the potato chips, they comfort me.

      Anyway. The think about Nutri-Grain (and Special K) is that they are carb-packed. If carbs are your issue, no amount of eating these products is actually going to help you, if you feel you need help with your fat fattiness of death!fat. And who doesn’t? ::rolls eyes::

      • Casey says

        Ew, since my mom’s mom was abusive in a passive-aggressive way, she’d never do THAT! LMAO, the more up-front the better. 😛
        We found out the only reason I’m fat is due to hypothyroidism and despite taking NUMEROUS blood tests, the doctor still won’t give me any thyroid pills. My mom has come to terms with it and says as long as I’m “fit and fat” it’s no big deal. (keep in mind she’s fat too…LOLSOB)

        I honestly once thought if I ate Special K for breakfast and dinner and a salad for lunch (and work-out like crazy) I’d lose weight. HURRF DURRF

        • sbg says

          I love my mom quite a lot. However, she was definitely a product of her environment and has never really left that environment. That, and she is/was herself very naturally tiny. I don’t think she ever understood why I wasn’t. Not to excuse her, but it’s not an easy lesson for anyone to learn if they are exposed to nothing else.

          It’s this prevalent thought that all fat people are in danger of dropping on the spot (AND costing insurance companies money, oh noes!) that we as a society can’t seem to shake. I am active as all get out. Eat well. Healthy as the proverbial horse.

          Am still “fat”.

          • Casey says

            Who me? If I could afford a better doctor, I would, but we have to go to La Clinica del Value (and we got booted off of OHP ‘cuz we were either too poor or not poor enough…I don’t know the nitty-gritty of it).

  23. Bri says

    Great observations. I recently bought a family-size box of Special K (so they must now include men and children in their target consumers) and was casually looking at the nutrition label on the side. 1 serving (1 cup) of cereal has 23 carbs (this does not include the milk you put on it which also has significant carbs). By contrast, the huge 4.25 oz. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds which I was working on has only 21 carbs per serving (38 grams or roughly 1/3 of the huge bar)! Now, all things being pretty much equal, I’d much rather eat chocolate for 2 meals a day and lose weight than eat Special K.

  24. says

    I agree up there about it being all carbs. Holy crap! The way I am, a Special K diet (2 meals replacements of SK plus one “real” meal) would not only make weight loss impossible, but it would make me weak and shaky.

    My nigel is a skinny “carb person” and could eat a diet of nothing but sugar and noodles and milk. I’m a thick, stocky type. I feel much better on proteins, olive oil, fruits and veggies.

    Right now I am lifting weights. It’s a big middle finger to the P who says women should just get tinier and tinier until they disappear. No offense meant to the naturally tiny of us out there.

  25. Donna says

    That metallic taste can probably be explained by a neat science-y experiment I once did. Take a ziploc bag full of Special K, crush it up into really fine crumbs, and then pour it out onto a surface (you might want to use a plate or a paper towel to make it easier to clean up all the crumbs). Take a magnet and wave it a couple inches above the pile of pulverized Special K remains. Examine the magnet after doing so, and you should be able to find lots of teeny-tiny bits of iron sticking to it. Yup, Special K is chock-full of iron, all right.

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