“But You Still Have To Go To The Gym”

This commercial makes me so angry–it embodies pretty much everything that’s wrong with the state of fitness and nutrition in our country today. There are so many things wrong with commercial that it’s almost hard to find a place to start. So I’ll do my best to focus on the main reason why this seemingly innocuous Cheerios commercial makes my blood boil.

Looking past the fact that I no longer agree with the contention that the whole grains in Cheerios are part of a “heart healthy breakfast,” the majority of my ire today comes from the last line: “But you still have to go to the gym.”+

Now, as a certified personal trainer and an incurable gym rat, I’m happy that General Mills is suggesting that fitness is an important part of anyone’s “heart health” and “weight loss” regime; however there’s a more insidious message behind the commercial, and it contains that ugly, 7-letter “C-word.”

Calories.

(If I never have to hear the word again, it will be too soon.)

The crux of this commercial’s message is: no matter how healthily you eat, if you don’t burn it off, you’ll get fat. (And Cheerios carries disordered food messages throughout much of its marketing strategy. Dr. Deah Schwartz, a Health At Every Size blogger, did a great post on the disordered implications of its “more whole grains, less you” message on Peanut Butter Cheerios boxes).

More Grains, Less You: negative body image from Cheerios Ad

This is disgusting to me on so many levels.

Here’s the thing: calories in vs. calories out does work. But only for so long.

It goes something like this: I start eating well and working out. I eliminate processed foods but don’t change my portion sizes. I buy a pair of running shoes and go for a 12+ minute mile jog 3-4 times a week. I lose weight. And then, all of a sudden, I plateau. So:

I lessen my portion sizes slightly and keep up with my running. I lose weight and then plateau. I get a personal trainer and lift weights several times a week in addition to the running. I lose weight and then plateau. I read some broscience forums and realize that I need to tighten up my diet. I eliminate fats (because fats make me fat amirite?*) and start working out 6 days a week. I lose weight and then plateau. Fine. Now my choices are to either make my portions even smaller or eat nothing but egg whites and tuna with steamed broccoli. I do both just in case. My metabolism slows. I become leptin resistant. I am hungry all of the time. I need to work out more. I go to the gym twice a day or do more than an hour of steady-state cardio every day, because who needs rest days?**

And in order to maintain, I have to continue manipulating my food or my workouts in an ever lessening/increasing ratio.

Exercise should be about rewarding the body with endorphins and strength, not about punishing your body for what you've eaten

FACT.

WHY. Why would anyone–anyone–do this to him or herself? What’s the point of spending your entire life worrying about how small, bland, and tasteless you can make your portions or how long, bland, and exhausting you can make your exercise? For some aesthetic goal? (Because it’s certainly not for health, despite what the fitspo images are assuring you. If you were healthy, you’d be able to go to a restaurant without freaking out when they cook your chicken breast in oil, or stay out late without worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to wake up in time to do an hour on the elliptical before work.)

Sorry to be absolutely blunt here, folks, but calories in/calories out is a really tragic*** way to live.

But what’s the alternative?

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

– K.

+And I can guarantee you’ve all seen this couple at the gym, too–you know, the woman sweating it out on the treadmill for an hour, lifting a light dumbbell awkwardly while reading a magazine, the man sitting on the pec-deck machine for an hour, doing endless sets of chest flyes with his neck jutting forward and taking 20 minute breaks between sets to chat with his friends…

*No.

**Everyone

***I was going to use a different word here, but I figure I’ve maxed out my curse word allotment for this post by using the “c” word again.

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8 thoughts on ““But You Still Have To Go To The Gym”

  1. I want to thank you for your ongoing message about the fallacy of calories in/calories out. It has really helped me, especially recently.
    I just finished my senior year cross country season 😥 with a great time and place at the State Championship meet. It has been a goal of mine, ever since I was a freshman and running 30+ minute 5k’s, to run in the state meet, and I finally did it this year! But to get there, I had to train on an injured knee for the last couple weeks of the season, and now have been told to take at least a week of rest to heal it.
    A week!
    I don’t know that I can go a week without running. Not to mention, I have recently started seeing my nutritionist again, and she has told me to: a) Eat a significantly larger amount of food, and b) Write down what I eat. So she will know if I eat less than I am supposed to because I’m not running.
    However, reading your blog has helped me remind myself that I need food to help my body recover, even without intense daily exercise.
    So thank you!

    • Absolutely. It’s been one of the absolute hardest things for me to internalize while injured and recovering (mentally and physically). After spending so much of my life listening to the media (and even the people in the cross country and marathon running communities, and later the bodybuilding community) talk about the importance of calories in/calories out, I really had a hard time accepting the fact that I could take 4 months off from the gym and actually fit better into my jeans at the end of it. In fact, I haven’t been to the gym since July, and I eat a super high-fat diet. I don’t count calories, I don’t measure my portions…and I’m happy, even without the gym-induced endorphin high.

      I’m so, so sorry to hear that you hurt your knee–I really do hope it gets better soon. But I get the minor bright side is that you get to use this time to discover new things about how your body works–and to learn how to fight back at ED. It sucks, because you don’t get to do something you love (run), but when you go back to it, you’ll be healthier and able to enjoy it even more. Sending you some healing vibes!

      <3!

  2. So much attachment to numbers numbers numbers. Pounds on the scale, calories in, calories burned, time on the treadmill, # of reps, # of servings, % of protein, fat and carbs. It’s insanity. Plus people just follow whatever recommendation has the most money behind it. Listening to our bodies is counter-intuitive at this point. Keep fighting the good fight! My therapist wrote this open letter to Kellogs. http://www.enlightened-eater.com/body-image/a-bowl-of-body-hate-for-breakfast/

    • Oh wow….I didn’t realize that the Pinch an Inch campaign existed…that’s honestly, truly disgusting. There really are so many more beautiful things we can be focusing our energy and attention on…

  3. I’m not much for commercials, but this is one of my favorites. It gives me incouragement when I really don’t feel like going to the gym. Good job General Mills….

  4. I am so glad I found a forum for this. This commercial is getting on my nerves. I am also a person who thinks that writing down everything is only an extreme occasional measure for a specific weight loss if all else fails, because it messes with instinct. If you are writing down everything you eat, how likely are you to take a sample of pie if that is all you want, or factor in a “piece of pie” and have a piece of pie and assign a number to it. Maybe you don’t even want the pie. Secondly, I can’t figure out if this woman in this commercial is the wife or the mother and she looks way to matronly to be this man’s wife. I think they made her look that way, instead of allowing her to feel dressed up, so she could please the every-woman. We women are not every-women. The guy looks uncomfortable and it looks staged.

    • Lady, I think you need a reality check. You are trying to put way to much into a pleasant discussion between a husband and wife at the breakfast table about nutrition. She simply says that although cheerios has nutritional value, he still has to go to the gym. Very well stated.
      Maybe you are not married. That would make it hard for you to understand….

      Great Commercial,

      Larry

      • Larry, I think I’m going to have to side with Gigi on this one. Did you read my blog post? The whole idea of calorie-shaming people isn’t motivational for a large portion of the population–it’s actually detrimental negative feedback that helps feed disordered relationships with food, exercise, and the body.

        The fact of the matter is, if we don’t do the deeper analysis of commercials, advertisements, etc, to find out what’s behind or beneath the obvious, then we’re at the mercy of the marketing message without ever understanding how it’s affecting us. For people like me, who ate cereal for two meals a day and then worked out obsessively to burn off my calories, believing the whole time that the way I was eating and exercising was healthy, it is incredibly important not to dismiss the deeper meaning and instead to help reveal it so others won’t fall into the same trap.

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