Is Noom a Diet? An Inside Look into Noom

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.

Cutting Calories

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.

Final Thoughts…

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.

If you’re stuck in chronic dieting or an eating disorder, I’d love to help! Please contact me or schedule an appointment online.

Much love,
Cherie signature

Sources
https://www.google.com/search?q=noom&oq=noom&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60j69i61l3j69i60.2044j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
https://www.britannica.com/science/dieting
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/202005/is-noom-diet
About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope

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.

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When Recovery Doesn’t Feel Worth It

Recovery from an eating disorder is incredibly difficult. Not only is the process itself just really hard, but it usually takes a long time and that in and of itself can be challenging. Sometimes it might all feel not worth it.

I understand. I’ve been there and so have many of the clients I’ve worked with. Part of the reason it doesn’t feel worth it, though, is probably because you don’t know what full recovery is like. It’s hard to imagine having peace with food and your body if you’ve never experienced it.

In earlier difficult seasons of my life, I was tempted to relapse back into my eating disorder. If we’re honest, we can admit that our eating disorders serve us in many ways, and that’s another reason it’s hard to give them up. But I didn’t go back to it, because I knew what it’s like to live without an eating disorder and it’s SO MUCH BETTER. Whatever my eating disorder did give me didn’t compare to what it stole from me. Whatever needs it met, I can meet those in healthier, better ways that don’t come at such a high physical and emotional cost.

But if you haven’t been on the other side of full recovery like I have, you might have a hard time even imagining what it will be like. So even though you can’t really know until you get there, let yourself dream. Try to create in your mind a picture of what being recovered might look like for you. Here are some activities that I like to do with clients to help them envision recovery.

Create a vision board. Cut out pictures from magazines (that won’t be triggering) and glue them on a piece of paper or poster board. Include pictures of places you want to go, activities you want to do, foods you want to eat, words that will describe you and your life, etc. Hang it up where you can see it often to help you stay motivated.

Journal about being recovered. Take some time to imagine a day in your recovered life. Visualize in as much detail as possible what you are doing, what you are wearing, who you are with, how you feel about life, how you feel in your body, what hobbies/activities you enjoy, or whatever else you would like to be true for you.

These activities might bring up a lot of emotions. Maybe excitement thinking about the possibilities, or sadness about what you’re missing out right now. It might even bring up anxiety or fear. It’s okay to also feel afraid of the things we want. Even if recovered life seems scary, try these assignments anyway and share it with your therapist, if you have one (and if you don’t please get one!).

Final Thoughts…

Overwhelming emotions, fear of weight gain, loss of identity, and so many other recovery humps make it tempting to give up before you fully recover. Please don’t give up. Reach out for support, give yourself compassion for how hard it is, and remind yourself what you’re working towards.

If I can help, please contact me or schedule an appointment online.

Much love,
Cherie signature

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope

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, ARFID, and other eating disorder issues. Contact me here or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

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Can You Be Fat and Healthy?

Can You Be Fat and Healthy?

We are told over and over that people in larger bodies are unhealthy. It’s the underlying assumption that drives the so-called “obesity epidemic” that everyone from doctors to Michelle Obama to Susan on Facebook are ranting about. This assumption about weight and health is so pervasive that most people don’t even stop to question it.

So is it true? Does being fat automatically mean that you’re unhealthy? Or put another way, is it possible to be fat and be healthy?

Believe it or not (and most don’t at first), there’s empirical support for the idea that you can be fat and healthy. Let’s take a look.

What the “Evidence” Leaves Out

First, we have to realize that all the evidence we hear on this topic is selected specifically to support the fat=unhealthy assumption that already exists. It’s human nature to ignore or reject information that doesn’t fit with our preconceived beliefs. So much of the evidence that supports the idea that people can be healthy at all sizes (e.g. Health At Every Size, or HAES®) is not even discussed.

Here is a summary of just some of the data supporting HAES®, as stated by Dr. Arya M. Sharma, MD, DSc (hon), FRCPC. Dr. Sharma is a Professor of Medicine & Past-Chair in Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and he writes:

“For one, as reviewed by the authors, a comprehensive search of the literature reveals at least six randomised controlled trials indicating that a HAES approach (focussing on promoting health behaviours and size acceptance rather than weight loss) is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g. blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g. physical activity, eating disorder pathology), and psychosocial outcomes (e.g, mood, self-esteem, body image). None of these studies found adverse changes in any variables.”

Additionally, a government survey indicated that over half the “overweight” adults (51.3%) being targeted were metabolically healthy. There are studies showing that weight and BMI are poor predictors of disease and longevity (see the sources listed at the bottom), and the bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds “underweight” is more dangerous than 75 pounds “overweight.”

In another study comparing the HAES® model to a diet approach, though only dieters lost weight, both groups initially had similar improvements in metabolic fitness, activity levels, psychological measures, and eating behaviors.  After two years, dieters had regained their weight and lost the health improvements, while the HAES® group sustained their health improvements.

This is just some of the research behind HAES®, but truthfully, there’s way too much for me to cover it fully here in just a blog post. Please consider additional reading on the topic, which can be found on my Resources page.

What the “Evidence” Gets Wrong

The fact that contradictory evidence gets left out or dismissed is not the only issue. The other problem is that the evidence to support the claim that being fat is unhealthy is just not as cut and dry as we’ve been told. There is literally NO study that has proven being fat causes illness or disease. Some studies show an association between being fat and having certain conditions, but as anyone who has ever studied research and statistics will tell you, correlation does not equal causation. (Say it again with me: correlation does not equal causation!)

For instance, what if I told you that the more ice cream is consumed, the more murders there are. Crazy, but yes, it’s an actual correlation. However, I doubt anyone would claim that eating ice cream causes people to commit murder. You would probably assume it’s either a coincidence or that there is another factor driving both increases. Maybe the heat? People are more likely to buy ice cream in summer months when it’s hot, and perhaps people are also more likely to murder someone because hot weather can make people irritable and temperamental. We don’t really know, but the point is, that in examples like this, we see pretty easily that it would be erroneous to assume correlation equals causation.

Yet that’s what we do all the time with “obesity” studies linking higher weights to certain conditions. We don’t really know that weight causes those conditions, only that they correlate to higher weights. Perhaps there are underlying factors driving both? A very real possibility for that is the emotional stress involved with being in a larger body, especially for those who suffer bullying, discrimination, or even abuse. (It’s well documented that discrimination is a chronic stressor and can increase people’s vulnerability to physical illness.) Another possibility is there’s an underlying physical condition that causes both. Still another possibility is that larger-bodied people are less likely to seek healthcare due to negative experiences with fatphobic medical professionals, and therefore, conditions aren’t caught and treated as early or effectively.

Do you see what I’m getting at? We JUST DON’T KNOW but we sure like to pretend that we do. The truth is that weight, genetics, nutrition, medicine, mental health… all work together somehow and we don’t have it figured out yet (if we ever really will). It’s incredibly complicated! I’m not saying we should stop trying to figure it out, but we definitely should stop blaming everything on weight. A mistaken belief that we’ve already discovered the truth prevents us from searching for the real truth. And our mistaken assumptions end up hurting people of all shapes and sizes in many, many ways, but mostly, of course, those in larger bodies.

Want to Know More?

Check out my Resources page for recommended reading and podcasts related to HAES® and anti-dieting (start with Christy Harrison’s Anti-Diet book or Food Psych podcast if you’re not sure where to start). Or if you’d like to talk with me, please contact me or schedule an appointment online.

Much love,
Cherie signature

Sources
http://www.drsharma.ca/obesity-the-science-behind-health-at-every-size-haes
https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kjh2110/the-10-most-bizarre-correlations
https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/discrimination
Gaesser, G. (2002) Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight & Your Health. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze.
Flegal, KM et al. (2005). Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity.JAMA, 293(15) 1861-1867.
Flegal, KM, Graubard, BI, Williamson, DF, Gail, MF (2007). Cause-specific excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and  obesity. JAMA, 298(17), 2028-3037.
Orpan HM, et al.(2009).  BMI and mortality: Results from a national longitudinal study of Canadian adults. Obesity, doi:10.1038/oby.2009.191
Tamakoshi1 A, et al. (2009). BMI and all-cause mortality among Japanese older adults: Findings from the Japan collaborative cohort study. Obesity, doi:10.1038/oby.2009.190
Campos P (2004).The Obesity Myth. New York: Gotham Books.
Bacon, L, VanLoan M , Stern JS, Keim N. Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese Female chronic dieters. J of Amer Dietetic Assoc 2005;105:929-936.
Wildman RP, et al. (2008). The obese without cardiometabolic risk factor clustering and normal weight with cardiometabolic risk factor clustering: Prevalence and correlates of 2 phenotypes among the US population (NHANES 1999-2004). Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug 11, 168(15):1617-24.
About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope

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, ARFID, and other eating disorder issues. Contact me here or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

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