There are two fellas in our office on the `cereal diet', a bizarre concept which sees participants eating cereal for two meals a day in a bid to lose weight fast. But does it really work? I found out.
There’s only one way to evaluate a diet, and that’s to try it yourself. So, in the name of journalism, and because I had to fit into a hugging dress for my brother’s wedding, I decided to give the so-called cereal diet a go. It couldn’t be harder than the vegan challenge, after all…
So, what is the cereal diet?
Special K used to promote the ‘two week challenge’ diet which, if followed correctly, would have you fitting into a little red swimming costume within a fortnight. All you had to do is eat a 45g bowl of Special K (or other relatively low-sugar Kellogg’s cereal) with low fat milk for both breakfast and lunch or dinner. Your third ‘normal’ meal had to be pretty healthy too (ie, low on carbs and high on protein and veg) and no alcohol was allowed.
So you don't have to calorie count, it’s easy to follow, you’re likely to spend less on food, and it’s apparently effective for 75% of people. Sounds great, right?
But curiously, Special K no longer advocates the ‘two week challenge’. Perhaps they realised that the lack of variation to the diet could compromise nutrient intake, or that Special K is not based on whole grains and isn’t a particularly good source of fibre. And maybe people began to realise that it was just a money-making scheme for Kellogg’s, albeit a genius one.
This was the reply when I approached Kellogg’s to ask them why the ‘two week challenge’ was axed a couple of years ago: “Women told us they didn’t want a quick fix anymore and would like Special K to support them in their long term/ maintenance weight goals. So we launched our new myspecialk website instead, which is based on calorie controlled meal plans including Special K snacks and cereal.”
…Interesting that they assumed it was women who did the cereal diet, when in fact I’ve only ever known men to try it.
Seeing as I wasn’t going to get any guidance from Kellogg’s, I had to make my own cereal diet rules up.
I would stick to the following for four weeks, to coincide with my brother’s wedding and the little purple dress I had to wear:
Eat a 45g bowl of cereal for two meals of the day with soya or rice milk (cow’s milk makes my stomach churn). I chose golden syrup Weetabix cereal, because two biscuits works out to be just shy of 45g – I didn’t want to embarrass myself by standing in the office, weighing out Special K flakes every day.
No alcohol! It would compromise the diet.
Only snack on fruit, vegetables, or other healthy things.
Weigh myself at the same time of day every week, to monitor progress. For reference, I have a healthy BMI of 22 and weigh 126lbs.
How it went…
The first day was absolute hell, to be frank. The rumbles began at 11:36am, and they were so bad by midday that I had to eat my second bowl of cereal much earlier than anticipated. By 5pm, I was literally seeing white spots, and had to wobble to the newsagents downstairs to recover with a Nutri-Grain bar (a Snickers would have worked far better).
Dinner was tuna steak with ample veg and a little pasta, and it was wolfed down with impressive speed. I went to bed still a little hungry.
The whole of the first week was miserable, tough, and boring. I’m big into my food, and eating the same thing twice a day is enough to drive even the most conservative eater mad. Plus it’s just plain bad for you. I spoke to dietician and nutritionist Azmina Govindji (pictured here) about the cereal diet, and she told me that although she would recommend cereal as a healthy breakfast option, “it is fundamentally wrong to eat the same thing all the time. Your body needs a range of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis – eating cereal twice a day could mean that you’re missing out on zinc, iron, omega 3 etc…”
“Plus it puts a lot of pressure on that third meal, which would have to be very rich in nutrients, oily fish, and high fibre vegetables.”
What I failed at: there might have been a couple of teeny tiny glasses of wine consumed at the weekend.
Weight loss: after the first seven days, I had lost five pounds.
I’m getting used to the misery now. At least it’s far cheaper to feed myself, and I do quite like this golden syrup Weetabix. Plus its mushiness made it perfect for recovering from a sore throat during the week.
I had hallucinations about giant falafel wraps on Wednesday, when the smell of Whitecross Street food market came wafting through our office windows. I usually go for a walk along it every other day to soak up the atmosphere, but alas I can no longer take the temptation.
By Thursday, eating only four Weetabix biscuits before dinner no longer leaves me feeling hungry. This worries me slightly. My stomach feels like it’s the size of a peanut.
What I failed at: I had to deal with a bank holiday weekend cinema visit, and it would have been rude not to get popcorn. And coke.
Weight loss: I’ve now lost six pounds in total. Only one pound this week! This does not seem fair.
I feel ill. Well, I have more headaches than usual. Time to consult Azmina: “I’m not surprised, to be honest. You are more prone to headaches, lapses of concentration, tiredness and a general loss of interest when you’re on such a restrictive diet. There shouldn’t be any dangerous or long-term illnesses, though – just short-term symptoms.”
Plus I have to train for a sponsored 10K run this weekend, which is proving oh-so-difficult when you have no energy to burn. I manage to run up and down the stairs 20 times each day, but that’s as far as it can go (I managed it though, as you can see from the photo!)
The highlight of my diet this week was finding a lump of sugar in one of my Weetabix biscuits on Friday; the lowlight was trying chocolate Weetabix for the first time. I strongly advise you against it, readers.
What I failed at: I celebrated completing my sponsored run with a great big slice of cake. But surely I deserved that?
Weight loss: remains at six pounds. It seems to be stabilising at 120lbs. Perhaps my body just won’t let me lose anymore?
…and the last week, hurrah! I cannot say that I’ve enjoyed the experience, mainly because cereal – or ‘the devil’s dandruff’, as my editor Andrew affectionately calls it – is so mundane. Especially when you’re eating so much of it. I did try swopping to Minibix, or other slightly more exciting cereals, but I found them far too sweet to handle twice a day.
I spent the week baking my brother’s wedding cake, which obviously called for sampling bits of the cake and eating icing offcuts. But I still stayed true to the diet, and even on the eve of his happy day I dined on Weetabix and went teetotal. The same can’t be said for the actual wedding day, mind…
What I failed at: eating a lot of buttercream, but that was for scientific purposes.
Final weight loss: six pounds. Sheesh. Personally, I don’t think it was worth four weeks of culinary boredom.
Yes, the cereal diet works. But I lost nearly 85% of my weight in the first week alone – weeks two, three and four just maintained what I had achieved in those first seven days.
I felt more tired than usual, and had headaches at least twice a week. But, all in all, my health didn’t suffer that much – although it did affect my ability to train for a run.
If you’re going on a beach holiday in a week, or perhaps a wedding, then I’d say that eating cereal all day is a pretty good ‘blitz it’ diet to try. Not that I’d ever actively encourage it – as Azmina says, “if you’re already a healthy BMI, the best thing you can do is to try and maintain it.”
Plus I am fully expecting to put those six pounds back on pretty quickly, even though I’m a healthy eater. “The body becomes efficient at storing fat when you diet,” says Azmina, "so you’re bound to put on weight as soon as you go back to eating normally”. Great. What a waste of Weetabix.
Have you ever tried the cereal diet? What do you think of crash dieting? Talk to us in the comments box below.
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