Saturday, January 25, 2014

Role modeling with the Lean Cuisine diet. Who needs the reality check?

Adorable, yet strikingly painful. 

                              (If a video doesn't appear above, click here)
Young, school age children, sharing their observations about their moms and their dads eating. These are strictly their observations, without judgement except for the stink of some of the cleansing pepper drinks they refer to. The contrast made by Lean Cuisine is that eating their frozen dinners as a strategy for weight lossthat is normal!

Well isn't it? Not unless you are a 4'8 woman, non-competitive athlete. To have one of your main meals of the day, your lunch or dinner, coming in under 300 calories is hardly adequate for most anyone. Yes, even though it does contain some carbs. And the suggestion that it, in itself, is a meal, an adequate meal, is quite problematic. Who do you blame when you are left feeling hungry after this meager intake? No one but yourself, no doubt. Calling it an appropriate meal replacement is misleading, unless you add a glass of milk, a fruit, a salad with some oil and vinegar or nuts, for instance.

We know all the Lean Cuisine eaters in this YouTube video have families, including kids—young, impressionable, school age kids. So let's think for a moment about dinner time in these homes. "Here, sweetie, you can eat the chicken dinner I made for the family, I'll just eat my (inadequate, 300 calorie) frozen meal. You know, because I need to lose weight." Or "You deserve to eat this great tasting meal I've made, but not me—I'm too fat!" Or maybe, "Why don't we all live on Lean Cuisines, so you can have control over your portions too; because I don't really trust that I or you can manage when there is more than a limited amount of food in front of me!"

Fast-forward several years and let’s imagine these innocent kids as adolescents. Do they feel entitled to eat an adequate plate of food? Or do they, like many a patient I've heard from, feel limited by the messages they heard from their parents (yes, parents, because dads put forth much of the same diet shtick so to speak). Like Dana, she may struggle to ever eat more than half a sandwich—that's how much her mother allowed herself. And like Allie, she might be counting her calories, limiting them to the boxed frozen dinner amount that her mom thought was right.

What do these kids end up taking from this? That their frozen-diet-dinner-dependent moms are the sane ones, as the video implies? Or that their moms and dads (and maybe them, too, when they’re grown ups) dislike their bodies, and certainly can't trust themselves, their ability to eat enough, their body's signals, their ability for their body to be forgiving if they ate a bit too much one day. They learn that normal family dinners are things other people can have, but not them. This is just the price they have to pay to lose weight.

Are you stuck in this place? 

Are you the adult child of such a dieter, who never learned to trust her own eating? Or simply struggling as of late, desperately dieting, relying on prepackaged foods and calorie-restricted meals? Consider cooking--see the recommendations made by "Thursday's patient" to ease the process, or check out Food to Eat for more support, with its 25 recipes in an easy to manage format, justifying the merits of each dish and its nutrient content. Serving sizes are suggested, but are by no means restrictive. Suggestions to enhance the meals are provided, along with sections to help you get out of your own way--to change your perspective about food and respond to your needs. And check out the links below, including sample recipes.

Kudos to Lean Cuisine for pointing out how crazy our culture is, with moms and dads filled with body loathing following all sorts of nonsensical diets. If only they can see that their video stopped short of pointing out the irony of their own product.

And from Food to Eat: 


  1. Great post and so true. I've never been a fan of lean cuisine or weight watchers etc packaged meals. Both the hungry factor and I'm a pretty picky eater. Picky in that I hate onions and many of these meals add onions (and other spices I don't love) to add flavor that's lost in the fat and calorie reduction. Not to mention the poor quality of the meats used to cut cost. Yuck.

  2. While this is somewhat tangentially off-topic from your take on the video, I have to disagree with your kudos to LC for pointing out how foolish our culture can be. Cynically (or perhaps realistically, as I would call it), I doubt LC cares what what our culture is like. I think the video is solely a tool for shaming parents (especially mothers, who certainly don't deserve any more scrutiny and blame than they already receive) for crushing under the weight of our diet-obsessed society and setting 'bad-examples' for their children. It then offers LC meals as an out (I agree with your criticism of this, very much so), but it's the same thing in the end: pepper water or processed sludge you heat up in the microwave for 2 minutes; it's a system of capitalism that causes insecurity in our society only to offer 'solutions' to spin some more of that sweet, sweet cash profit.

    Every single last bit of this is pure manipulation.

    1. Point well taken! Truly I didn't believe they deserved much credit!

  3. I think its really interesting that their big tag line was "over 70 protein packed meals"! I guess all we need in life is protein?! We can always count on kids (and you) to show us how absurd our decisions can be! - Thursday's Patient

  4. Wow. I watched that video with a heavy heart. I am so sad I'm having a hard time articulating the feelings I have. Shame on lean cuisine for trying to pretend that somehow they are a solution to this problem. "What do your parents eat?" Child, "something from a box". Wow. Just wow.