By now, you’ve probably seen an ad for Noom because they seem to be everywhere. They’re intriguing to many because they claim to be different than other weight-loss programs, largely in part due to having “psychology” element and also for not involving dieting. When I saw they were offering a free trial, I decided to sign up and check it out to see what it’s really all about. Now that I’ve had an inside look, I want pull back the curtain for you so you can see for yourself how accurate these claims are:
“Noom helps you build healthier habits to lose weight—no dieting needed!”
“Noom: Stop dieting. Get life-long results.”
Here we go 🙂
First, what IS a diet?
To be clear about what a diet actually is, here’s a definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Dieting is regulating one’s food intake for the purpose of improving one’s physical condition, especially for the purpose of reducing obesity, or what is conceived to be excess body fat.
This “food regulation” can take on several forms, including reducing overall food consumed or cutting out specific foods.
So does Noom do those? Yes. And sorta yes.
The whole program is built on reducing calories. That’s really not so new, is it? That diet approach has been around for ages! How it works is you say what your goal weight is and if you want to go slow, medium or fast to get to that goal. Then they calculate how long it will take you to get there and give you a daily “calorie budget”. You don’t have to count the calories yourself, but you do have to log everything you eat and their program calculates it for you.
To be honest, my calorie budget was suitable for a toddler. Not a grown woman. Definitely not a woman who is nursing (which was never asked about in the assessment questions, by the way). I blew through my calorie budget by the afternoon. Of course, I wasn’t actually trying to stay within my allowance. To do so would mean eating less and/or choosing different foods (again, the very definition of a diet, amiright?)
Cutting Out Specific Foods
Now, they say that there are no “good” and “bad” foods and you can eat anything. Sounds great! Except that every food you log is coded in a color chart: green foods are thumbs up while yellow and red food should be “limited.” So, I guess technically there’s no cutting out certain foods. But color coding foods and saying some should be limited sure sounds like categorizing foods into good and bad categories. And it sure sounds like a way to make people feel bad about the foods in the red category.
“Get Life-long Results”
This is just a totally baseless claim to make. Their marketing claims that 77% of people lost weight and kept it off for nine months. First off, nine months is nothing in terms of a lifetime. Like every other diet, there is no evidence that it works long-term (meaning 5+ years). Weight loss research typically follows people one year or less, which isn’t a very long time considering most people aren’t interested in losing weight just to gain it back after 12-24 months. That kind of weight cycling is also incredibly bad for your health. (Check out this post to read about the negative health impact of yo-yo dieting.).
Additionally, that 77% success rate they tout is a bit misleading if you don’t know exactly what’s include… or in this case, left out. The study they used was by Chin et al (2016), which looked at data from about 36,000 people who used the app between October 2012 and April 2014. As clinical psychologist Alexis Conason Psy.D. explains:
At the time the study was written, the authors reported that over 10 million people had downloaded the app. However, the study only included people who used the app consistently for six months or more. In other words, the study only included the most successful users. Think about it: If you start a program, use it for a while, and it doesn’t work, what would you do? Would you continue paying each month for a service that isn’t delivering on its promises? No, if you are like most people, you would stop the program. And that is exactly what over 99% of Noom users did.
So, keeping in mind that this study is only looking at the 0.36% of Noom users (out of the 10 million people who downloaded the app) who stuck with the plan for six months of more, let’s see what they found. While actively using the app, over 30% of these users lost less than 5% of their weight. About 24% of users lost 10% of their weight and 22% lost more than 20%. That’s what happened in the short term, when participants were consistently engaging with the app.
At follow-up less than one year after starting the program, researchers had data on 15,376 of these participants (more than half of the sample was excluded due to missing data) and found that less than 10% of participants had lost and maintained 5-10% of their weight. Additionally 11% had already regained whatever weight they initially lost.
But because the millions of people who didn’t keep using the app weren’t even included in this particular study, the conclusion was that 77% lost weight while using the app—again, the stat Noom widely uses in their marketing. It’s actually pretty deceptive once you understand how that number was derived, isn’t it? As Conason puts it, “I guess it sounds better than 86% of users failed our program within a year. Or 99% of people couldn’t stick with our plan for six months.”
Other Concerns About Noom
Here are some other issues I have with Noom:
- They don’t flag unhealthy goal weights. Of course, I think part of the problem with these programs and our weight-loss obsession in general is that a person’s healthy weight might be higher than what our culture considers a healthy weight. But that aside, I purposely set my goal weight to be low enough that it would be considered clinically underweight according to BMI. (Yes, I think BMI is horse manure but that’s a fun discussion for another time.) You should know that while the research on the dangers of being fat is questionable, the research about the dangers of being underweight is not. Being underweight is very dangerous medically. Setting an underweight goal should have been a big red flag for Noom. But the system didn’t flag anything and my “goal specialist” didn’t seem concerned. Yikes.
- They expect daily weigh-ins. Now, I’m against weighing in general, but even if you do weigh, can we agree that doing so every day is excessive?
- They encourage you to eat foods with more water in them so you get filled up on fewer calories. “Eat and drink more water” is a classic dieting and eating disorder tactic. Does it work in the short term? Sure, it can. Does it work in the long term? No, because no dieting hack does. I only did the app for one day, so there’s no telling what other dieting hacks they would have tried to push.
- It doesn’t necessarily promote health like they claim. The kind of restriction they are promoting might be so extreme for some people, it would be incredibly not healthy physically, regardless of their current weight. Contrary to popular belief, people in larger bodies can be malnourished. And again, they didn’t care at all that my goal weight was clinically underweight.
- They don’t screen for eating disorders. I have a huge problem with this, because they claim to be about health. Well, health includes mental health, people. Especially considering eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Anytime someone is claiming to not be a diet, but wants you reduce calories or eliminate foods, see it for what it is: nothing more than a re-packaged diet. Companies and influencers know that dieting isn’t really en vogue anymore like it was in the 90’s, so now they try to pass diets off as “wellness” and “lifestyle changes” instead. We think we’ve shifted away from weight loss to being healthy… but we haven’t really.
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC, founder of Food Freedom Therapy™. I offer counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorder therapy for Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, OSFED, ARFID, and other eating disorder issues. Contact me here or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.