January television is usually rife with commercials for all things related to weight loss. You see gym advertisements, commercials for supplements and weight loss aids, celebrity spokespeople espousing Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, and of course all sorts of food company spots. Most are harmlessly misleading; if you really think taking some non-FDA-approved dietary supplement is really going to give you that chiseled physique without hours and hours at the gym, then you are a fool who deserves to be parted from your money.
Recently, however, Campbell's soup has been advertising a couple of new, low-fat, low-calorie soups. This I have no issues with. Soup is indeed a delicious way to enjoy vegetables and is generally healthy, even if sometimes the vegetables are cooked beyond recognition. (Of course, cream soups are a different thing altogether.) However, Campbell's is taking shots at frozen "diet" meals in their advertising campaign. Now, competition is just part of life and I expect products that are pandering to the same audience to be in engaged in some one-upping. Yet Campbell's ad campaign is clearly saying that a meal that has 310 calories is bad.
Really? 310 calories? Gasp.
A 5'2", 140 pound, moderately active 30-something woman needs approximately 2100 calories a day to maintain her weight. That would be an average height American woman who is about a size 10 or 12. In other words, completely normal. If she weighed 120 pounds, her caloric needs would still be around 1950. Super obese people are still instructed by their doctors to consume a minimum of 1200 calories per day; consuming less runs the risk of malnutrition. Some quick math: for a super obese person eating 1200 calories per day, that's just under 4 of those frozen meals. The 120 pound woman can eat 6 of those meals, and the 140 pound woman could probably have a 7th if she wanted to. In the grand scheme of things, 310 calories is still a very light meal!
Yes, weight-loss "experts" suggest several small meals throughout the day to maintain metabolism. However, I don't think they'd consider an 80 calorie bowl of soup to be a meal. Personally, I have found that when I have a meal that is so low in calories, I tend to gorge on another meal. Ultimately this is the one of worst things that can happen. Generally, losing weight (more than 5-10 pounds) needs to be a lifestyle adjustment, not a short-term activity. Getting into the habit of eating smaller, balanced meals is imperative. The stomach is allowed to shrink, so it takes less food to feel comfortably full, and your body can tell you it has had enough. When you eat a small meal, like an 80 calorie bowl of soup, first of all rarely do you feel full. Then you think in your mental caloric calculator that you can have that 700-900 calorie dinner. Your stomach never really gets to shrink and you fall into the pattern of spiking blood sugar and metabolism. For an occasional thing, this is ok -- if you know you are going out for a lavish gourmet dinner, having a bowl of low-calorie soup for lunch is perfectly fine. But as an everyday thing, part of a weight-loss plan, not so healthy.
My other complaint with this ad campaign of Campbell's is that us women have enough pressure on TV about our looks and body image. We don't need a major corporation telling us that a 310 calorie meal is a shocking amount of calories, because it isn't. 310 calories is still a low-calorie meal. To put it in perspective, a small french fry from McDonalds is 230 calories. A 4 piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with Apple Dippers and 8 oz of low-fat milk is 390 calories. (Incidentally, this is the lowest calorie combination available in a Happy Meal; a cheeseburger/small fries/small sprite happy meal has almost twice the calories. And we wonder why childhood obesity is such an epidemic.)
So to the Campbell's corporation I say this: back off. Advertise your delicious, low-fat, low-calorie soups for what they are. But quit telling us that when we eat a 310 calorie meal we are somehow being bad, because we aren't. We're being, God forbid, almost normal.