So What’s All the Fuss Over the Yoplait Commercial?

Do you know about the controversial Yoplait commercial? It’s the ad that the National Eating Disorders Association fought to have taken off the air.   In the commercial, a woman opens the fridge and bargains with herself over whether she can eat a slice a raspberry cheesecake:  “What if I just had a small slice?  I was good today.  I deserve it.”  Then she talks through various scenarios in her head about jogging in place and eating celery sticks to make up for this indulgence.

Here’s the ad in case you haven’t seen it.  What’s your take?

The commercial came to NEDA’s attention after the organization received numerous emails and phone calls from eating disorder sufferers. The group believes the ad’s language could easily serve as a trigger for those vulnerable to disordered eating. Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the NEDA explains:

“This behavior in a commercial tells people with eating disorders, ‘See, it’s even on TV. It’s OK and normal for my head to go through all these mental exercises.'”

Grefe says that NEDA “applauds” Yoplait and parent company General Mills for agreeing to pull the commercial days after the group voiced concerns (although it may still be in rotation in some markets until it’s completely off the air).

“We had no idea,” Tom Forsythe, VP of Corporate Communications for General Mills, said to the Huffington Post. “The thought had never occurred to anyone, and no one raised the point. We aren’t sure that everyone saw the ad that way, but if anyone did, that was not our intent and is cause for concern. We thought it best to take it down.”

NEDA has fought what they describe as “David versus Goliath” battles against numerous companies whose ads encourage an unhealthy relationship with food. The Huffington Post features a slideshow of other advertising campaigns that NEDA says could serve as triggers for those struggling with eating disorders.

Given all the hubbub, Yoplait was “probably wise to stick a fork in” the ad, says David Gianatasio at Adweek.

Maybe not everyone sees the big deal about the commercial. There are a million ads for “diet” foods, what makes this so different? The problem is all about what experts call “restrained eating.” The character in the commercial (which Adweek says looks a lot like Sarah Palin) is having an internal dialogue that is a classic case of restrained eating — that’s where you never let yourself eat what you want or you’re always obsessing over what you eat. This is the struggle of a lot of chronic dieters who deprive themselves and then give in to their cravings and can’t stop. It’s an ongoing cycle of deprivation and out-of-control, regretted eating. The ad just got a little too psychological and seemed to validate this way of thinking.

“I don’t know what’s more stunning,” says Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. “That Yoplait actually ran this dangerous and perverse ad, or the pervasive dysfunctional thinking that it’s natural for women of all sizes to be guilt-plagued, food-fetishizing calorie-counters who “careen from Restriction Village to… Binge Town.”

Here’s what Ellyn Satter says about restrained eating:

Restrained eating increases abuse of emotional eating. In my clinical experience corroborated by the research, restrained eating exacerbates the tendency to abuse emotional eating. People who are not restrained eaters consume less, not more, under stressful conditions. Restrained eaters try to eat less and less-appealing food than they need and want and are chronically hungry. Trying not to eat in the face of hunger and food-preoccupation takes a lot of energy. Stress undermines the energy to sustain food deprivation, and the person overeats. Thus, rather than overeating in response to stress, the restrained eater disinhibits. The restrained eater still eats a lot, but the root cause is undereating rather than emotional arousal. The cycle continues: The remorseful fallen-away restrained eater redoubles her efforts to restrict and again falls prey to stress induced disinhibition.

Satter recommends the following to avoid restrained eating:

  • Feed yourself regularly and reliably. Have meals and snacks at predictable times, and include the food you like.
  • Set aside restrained eating. Trust yourself to go to the table hungry and eat until you feel satisfied. Then stop, knowing another meal or snack is coming soon and you can do it again.
  • Become more comfortable with your feelings. Know what you feel, including that knowing in choosing how to act. Learn to productively use food for emotional reasons.
  • Be clear about what eating can do for you. Eating in a focused fashion is likely to soothe or calm you and even raise your spirits a bit. It won’t resolve the problem-unless the problem is being hungry! When you feel like eating because you are bored, depressed, happy, or sociable, say to yourself, ”It is all right to eat. But first I will find out what I am feeling.”

Then eat positively, deliberately, soothingly, and cheeringly.

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