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The Special K Challenge

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The Special K Challenge: What it is

"Drop a jeans size in 2 weeks." It sounds too good to be true. But according to the Special K Challenge, you could lose up to 6 pounds in 14 days if you eat cereal or other Special K products for breakfast and lunch, plus a regular dinner.

The Special K Challenge promotes quick weight loss through portion control at snacks and two of your daily meals. But it makes no recommendations about the content or size of the third meal. And if that meal is loaded with fat and calories, the calorie savings from the rest of the day could be negated -- and you won’t lose weight.

The Special K diet is designed to be a quick fix, not a long-term program. It includes little education and no health care experts or exercise recommendations to help dieters go the distance. The only support comes from information on cereal boxes and the Special K website, plus a Special K Challenge message group on Yahoo featuring a blog from athlete Gabrielle Reece.

There is nothing special about Special K products. In fact, most are not whole grain, and they tend to be low in fullness-promoting fiber and protein. (Of course, dieters could opt to do their own challenge, with their favorite high-fiber, high-protein cereal along with nutritious snacks and a healthy dinner meal.)

If you take the Special K Challenge, think of it as a prelude to a well-balanced diet plan, and let those six pounds serve as a motivator to help you keep going.

The Special K Challenge: What You Can Eat

The Special K Challenge is a simple, economical diet plan that uses familiar foods most people enjoy. Dieters can choose from among a wealth of Special K cereals, bars, enhanced waters, and shakes.

Here's a sample meal plan on the Special K diet:

Breakfast : One serving of Special K cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit.

Lunch: Repeat breakfast meal or substitute a Special K Protein Meal bar.

Dinner: Eat your normal meal.

Snacks: Eat two snacks each day of Special K products (bars, cereal, snack bites) or fruits or vegetables.

When choosing cereals or bars, check the labels and select those high in protein and fiber for greater satisfaction. Be sure to read the serving size on the label, and use a measuring cup at first to make sure you're getting the recommended portion.

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The Special K Challenge: How it Works

The Special K Challenge works in the short term because it slashes calories. When you have a meal containing 100-250 calories instead of a meal made up of bacon, egg and cheese croissant, or a triple cheeseburger and fries, you will certainly lose weight. Special K products are all low in fat and calories.

It's also easy to follow. Like a meal replacement diet plan, the Special K Challenge eliminates the guesswork for all snacks and most meals. The freedom to self-select a third meal makes the Challenge more acceptable to most dieters.

Results of a 2002 study done at Purdue University (funded by Kellogg) showed that replacing regular meals with calorie- and portion-controlled cereal meals could result in weight loss. Study participants took in an average of 1,590 calories per day and cut their fat intake in half.

"Substituting cereal for higher-calorie meals can help people trim calories and fat. … In the study, we found those reductions were doable and resulted in about a 4.4 pound weight loss over a 2-week period," says study author Rick Mattes, PhD.

Be warned: You may be very hungry on the Special K diet, depending on what you're used to eating. It's high in carbohydrates and relatively low in fiber and protein.

The Special K Challenge: What the Experts Say

The Special K diet is simple, uses foods that are readily available, and is doable for most people. But experts don’t give it a total thumbs-up: It's too low in protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. It also lacks an exercise component and the kinds of sustainable changes that are the foundation for healthy weight loss plans.

There certainly is no harm in following the Special K diet plan for a few weeks and using it as a springboard to a more balanced weight loss plan that includes exercise, the experts say.

"While it may be an overly simplistic plan … it is a great way to start focusing on the things that need to change to get your diet a step in the right direction," Mattes says.

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Keep in mind that most dieters lose a little water weight when starting a weight loss plan. You may lose a little more than the usual 1-2 pound weight loss per week on this plan at first, but you can expect slower weight loss after the first few weeks.

One expert says the Special K diet could be a good choice for people who tend to skip meals during the day.

"This may be a useful option for anyone who routinely skips meals or who eats fast foods or meals loaded with calories," says Lynn Grieger, RD.

This is especially true for those who tend to overlook breakfast, another expert says.

"One of the best aspects of the [Special K] Challenge is getting people to eat breakfast because breakfast has been shown to produce a whole host of health and cognitive benefits, including weight control," says Marisa Moore, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Hunger is likely to be an issue, though. Grieger cautions that cereal with skim milk and fruit is a great meal or snack, but unless you choose a high-protein, high-fiber cereal, you may be hungry in an hour or two.

"Eating foods low in fiber and protein causes hunger sooner and may trigger overeating of the wrong kinds of foods," Grieger says.

Moore suggests that dieters reduce the boredom of eating so many cereal products by adding plenty of fruits and vegetables to the Special K diet.

"Aim for 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, which will lower your calorie intake naturally and provide a wealth of disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals," she says.

The Special K Challenge: Food for Thought

If you only need to drop a few pounds or want to jump-start a long-term weight loss plan, the Special K diet is a great place to begin. To make it healthier, add regular physical activity, make sure your dinner meal is healthy, and take a daily multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps.

You can lose weight on the Special K Challenge. It can also help you make some adjustments toward a healthier eating plan, such as starting each day with a healthy breakfast and controlling your portions.

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But keep in mind that this is not a long-term weight loss solution, and if you return to your regular diet, the weight can come back quickly. The Special K diet doesn't address other lifestyle changes that are the foundation of a sustainable weight loss program. And it's the things you do on a daily basis that really make the difference over time.

As with any weight loss plan, it's best to see your doctor before beginning the program.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

WebMD Expert Review

Sources

SOURCES:

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, health, food and fitness coach, Vermont.

Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD, professor of foods and nutrition, Purdue University.

Marisa Moore, RD, LD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association; president-elect, Georgia Dietetic Association.

R. Mattes, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2002; 21( 6): pp 570-577. Cho, S., et al, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2003; 22(4): pp 296-302.

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