Campbell's, a Pro-Ana Company

Campbell's, the generally benign and beloved soup company, is running some commercials that are driving me insane. In them, women are mindlessly shambling through the frozen foods aisle of a supermarket, tossing various light and diet frozen meals into their carts. And then... they come to their senses. They  look at the nutritional information of these meals they are buying. Horrors, if only they had known! 

"310 calories?" one woman says, clearly shocked. 

"340 calories?!" another says with disgust. 

The solution: Campbell's Select Harvest Light soups, with as few as 60 calories per serving!

OK, somebody tell me if I'm missing the boat here, but... since when is 340 calories a completely unacceptable amount to eat for a meal? Ignore the underlying message that all women should be on a restricted-calorie diet. That's just too big for me to tackle right now. This is a matter of degree and simple math. Note that Campbell's isn't in any way playing these ads in the light of "eat our soup for lunch so you can have that cheesecake later." I'd be a lot more OK with that, even though it still buys into the problematic social imperative for all women to restrict their food intake. But no, the message implicit in that ad is that 340 calories is simply too much to eat, ever.

Let's do a little math, here, so I can explain in more depth why I'm up in arms. Most weight-loss experts recommend that a woman eat between 1500 and 1800 calories in a day. (A man would generally need somewhat more.) If you were to eat five of those 340-calorie frozen meals in a day, you'd be at 1700 calories, which is a perfectly reasonable amount for a typical woman to eat. Not that most people are eating frozen meals every time they open their mouths, or are even eating five meals a day, which is the trendy thing to do nowadays. 

Most sources I've read say 1200 is the absolute lowest limit a dieter should go to, without risking various nutritional deficiencies or damaging your metabolism. Let's go with 1400 calories for our imaginary woman on a diet. That's 466 calories a meal for three meals. 

Or if you were splitting your food into five smaller meals, that gives you a lower limit of 280 calories per meal, assuming that you're dividing your calories equally between meals. And that's a big assumption! Want to see how the calories in a typical (recommended) dieter's day stacks up, with three meals and a couple of snacks?


1 hard-boiled egg, 70 calories

1 grapefruit w/ tsp. of sugar, 60 calories

1 piece whole wheat toast w/ 1 tbsp. peanut butter, 200 calories

TOTAL: 330 calories

Morning Snack: 1 cup lowfat yogurt, 120 calories

1 apple, 80 calories

TOTAL: 200 calories

Lunch: 1 "horrifying" frozen meal, 340 calories 

Afternoon Snack:

1 cup baby carrots, 60 calories

2 tbsp. light ranch dressing, 70 calories

TOTAL: 130 calories

Dinner: 1 garlic-mushroom chicken breast, 120 calories

1 cup egg noodles w/ 1 tsp. butter, 249 calories

1 cup steamed broccoli, 31 calories

TOTAL: 400 calories

GRAND TOTAL: 1400 calories

Now let's replace that 340-calorie frozen meal with a 60-calorie serving of Campbell's. Whoops! The total is 1120. We've gone 80 calories below the lower limit recommended by nutritionists. If you also take away half of those butter noodles, because (horrors!) we went above 340 calories for dinner, that brings us to a grand total of 995 calories for the day. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone recommending that level of calorie restriction without medical supervision.

There was a famous study about starvation conducted in Minnesota in 1945. Let's quote Wikipedia:

Among the many conclusions from the study was the confirmation that prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis as measured using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a standardized test administered during the experimental period. Indeed, most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression. There were extreme reactions to the psychological effects during the experiment including self-mutilation (one subject amputated three fingers of his hand with an axe, though the subject was unsure if he had done so intentionally or accidentally). Participants exhibited a preoccupation with food, both during the starvation period and the rehabilitation phase. Sexual interest was drastically reduced and the volunteers showed signs of social withdrawal and isolation. The participants reported a decline in concentration, comprehension and judgment capabilities, although the standardized tests administered showed no actual signs of diminished capacity. There were marked declines in physiological processes indicative of decreases in each subject’s basal metabolic rate (the energy required by the body in a state of rest) and reflected in reduced body temperature, respiration and heart rate. Some of the subjects exhibited edema (swelling) in the extremities, presumably due to the massive quantities of water the participants consumed attempting to fill their stomachs during the starvation period.

How much do you think those men were eating? I bet you guess too low. It was roughly 1560 calories a day. Makes you think a little harder about those extreme calorie restriction diets, huh?

Campbell's, by running these ads you are supporting -- nay, advocating -- disordered eating, even unto anorexic behavior. I call shenanigans.

Updated to add: I acquired the video for a shorter version of the ad:

It looks like when I was writing this from memory, some of the specific numbers were off, but not by much. My point stands.

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