Fit to be tried: Special K diet
THE beautiful woman in the sexy red dress floats down the stairs. She's slim, smiling, gorgeous -- and thousands of normal women can look just like her.
It's easy -- all we have to do is become cereal dieters.
Or so claims the Special K Challenge, a two-week diet popular with thousands of Irish slimmers keen to shape up in a hurry.
And it's not just for the swimsuit season -- the diet is also a big hit over the Christmas holidays, says Kellogg's, the multinational food giant behind the plan. "The programme is very successful, and runs for two weeks," says a spokeswoman. "We encourage people to eat healthily and provide lots of support and useful information."
Kellogg's could not confirm how many people have signed up for the challenge so far.
But how does it work? All you have to do to lose a dress or jeans size, and look like that woman in the red dress (or her muscle-bound hubby) is swap two of your daily main meals for a bowl of Special K.
These are light, crunchy, sweet flakes, as anyone who watches the TV commercials will know. And as the packet will tell you, the ingredients of a 117 calorie bowl are rice, wheat gluten, sugar, defatted wheat germ, salt, high fructose corn syrup, dried whey, malt flavouring, calcium caseinate and ascorbic acid. So is the Kellogg's diet too good to be true? Probably, says nutritionist Helen Corrigan.
"The Special K challenge is one of the latest incarnations of the age-old restrictive diet that has proved time and again to be unsuccessful in losing weight, and particularly in maintaining long-term healthy weight loss," says the Dublin-based nutrition adviser.
A few days on the programme can bring about some weight loss (two pounds in my case) but you can find yourself pretty hungry. Especially if, like me, you're used to eating healthy protein such as chicken, fish or beans with most meals. So a bowl of cereal for lunch? Not very satisfying, but adding cottage cheese helps.
The instant result might seem impressive, but Ms Corrigan says nutritional quick fixes are unsustainable and can often do you more harm than good.
"This type of short-term weight loss usually results in the weight lost -- and possibly more -- being put back on, leading to yo-yo dieting, which is detrimental to health, as well as making it more difficult to lose weight in the long term."
But some health professionals say eating a bowl of relatively harmless cereal might be a better alternative than the fried junk food many of us go for. "It's not perfect, but a bowl of Special K instead of a fast-food takeaway would be an improvement for many," says fitness trainer David Mulqueen, from The Edge gym in Clontarf on Dublin's northside.
Mulqueen himself advocates a low-carbohydrate, high-protein regime for his clients.
Ms Corrigan says it's a mistake to think of losing weight solely in terms of calorie intake, rather than focusing on the type of calories you're consuming.
"The Special K Challenge conveniently recommends up to four Special K products and one balanced meal daily," she points out.
"Many of these Special K products are high in sugar, low in fibre and low in vitamins and minerals -- in other words, nutritionally poor."
And the low-fibre nature of the products can cause health problems such as constipation, she warns. "This is not a sustainable or healthy way to lose weight."
But the spokeswoman for Kelloggs says the challenge is just a two-week kick-start, not a permanent way of eating.
And desperate times call for desperate measures. A survey carried out by Kellogg's shows many of us are unhappy with our bodies and dread the thought of wearing a bikini.
"Over 70pc of Irish women try to lose weight for the summer holidays, and 58pc prefer to keep their tummies under wraps," according to the survey, carried out earlier this year.
Launching the Special K summer challenge, TV presenter Lisa Cannon says it helped her look forward to summer. "I took the challenge in January and found it really works," she says.
"Now I'm looking forward to my holiday in Spain in August. The challenge is a great way of getting your body beach-ready."
Maybe so. But when it comes to diets, most of us are cereal offenders.
Did it work: Not long-term, but lost two pounds .
Pluses: Easier and cheaper than many diets
Minuses: I felt hungry on most of the days.
Cost: Two week challenge, free. Box of cereal €4.69.