"A Coke used to cost five cents, but what if it now cost 140 calories?" So begins Coca Cola's latest ad, an attempt to show people that they can still have their favorite soft drink. The trick, as they demonstrate with a Rube Goldberg-style contraption hooked up to a giant circus bike, is to just make sure you do 140 calories worth of exercise before popping open a can.
Trading treats for exercise isn't a new idea. Many popular diet gurus allow their clients a small splurge on days they exercise. And knowing the calories in what you're eating can be a useful diet tool, though it can quickly become a vicious cycle of exercising to eat rather than eating to fuel your exercise. In fact, feeling like you need to "earn" your calories is a hallmark of disordered eating.
But the problem with this ad isn't the cute reminder to watch your calories, but rather the assumption that calories all take the same form, says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and author of The Secret of Vigor. "The ad assumes that all calories are equivalent when research tells us that just isn't true," he says. There are myriad differences, both metabolically and psychologically.
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All sugars may not be created equally, either. A 2012 study showed that high fructose corn syrup may be more harmful to your health than plain table sugar, and since fructose can only be metabolized in your liver, drinking too much pop can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in addition to upping your risk for diabetes, certain cancers, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
Talbott adds that sugar is highly addictive. "The more you consume it, the more you want or need it, and then you need more of it to get the same effect," he says. "Humans quickly develop a tolerance to sweetness, so you need to keep increasing sugar load to get the same level of satisfaction."
The commercial points out it only takes 23 minutes of bike riding for the average person to burn off a Coke, but unfortunately it's a lot easier to become addicted to sugar than exercising. If you're watching your weight, Talbott has a different suggestion: "How about you just burn 140 calories—and not replace them with a Coke?" Sounds good to us.
Scroll below to watch the ad and tell us: Are you buying Coke's latest campaign? Share in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!