By now, you’re probably all familiar with the ads for Noom. They usually feature a Noom participant telling us that diets have always failed them, but that Noom was different. Noom has the tagline ‘diets don’t work,’ and says very clearly that with the program, you can ‘stop dieting.’
But is Noom a non-diet? Or, is it just another diet in disguise?
Welcome to my Noom review.
What is Noom?
Noom is a weight loss app that combines standard diet procedure aka tracking food, with a behavior change component to apparently help users lose weight and change their habits for the long-term.
We know weight loss is super-tough to achieve for anyone. In my experience, being overweight is seldom about the food; it’s more about our relationship with eating and ourselves. Noom claims to address this side of the equation, so I signed up to see what their ‘psychological approach’ is all about.
I was curious to see how Noom does this better than Weight Watchers (or WW, as it’s now called) or any of the other old-school diets.
I signed up for Noom to do this Noom review. I needed to see for myself if any diet red flags popped up, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Because Noom isn’t supposed to be a diet, so theoretically, the program should be free of diet language and behaviors. Right?
Ah…good luck with that.
How Much Does Noom Cost?
Noom is around $60 USD a month.
How Does Noom Work?
Onboarding includes questions your goal weight, motivation levels, previous diets and activity levels, if you have chronic illness such as diabetes, if you’ve been on antibiotics in the past two years (?), how busy you are in your daily life, and other relevant stuff like if you cook, or eat in restaurants more often.
One thing I noticed is that they don’t ask about is history of eating disorders. This is where I have to say that if you are at risk for disordered eating or have a history of disordered eating, DO NOT DO THIS PROGRAM.
Once I entered all of my info, my (made-up) goal to lose 20lb, and that I wanted to lose that weight at a medium pace, Noom assigned me a calorie level – 1200 per day – and a coach.
Just FYI, 1200 calories is LOW. And after hearing from a lot of other people who had done the program, I learned that a 1200 calorie budget seems like the level that’s most often given by Noom to participants, regardless of their desired weight loss ‘speed.’
Here we have our first red flag, a calorie budget.
Any calorie limitations/budget/counting equals a diet.
Two big components of Noom are the daily weights and the tracking of everything you eat.
These are two huge red flags. Weighing yourself daily and tracking food equals a diet.
In general, I don’t recommend weighing yourself every day, or tracking every morsel of food that you eat. Both these things can be triggering for people who are at risk for disordered eating or who have a history of obsessive behavior.
Tracking what you eat on a daily basis can reduce food to numbers, which is also not healthy. You eat food, not calories. It can also create a disconnect between your natural hunger and fullness cues, and your eating habits. As in, ‘I have 300 calories left, but I’m not hungry, I need to eat them anyhow’ type of thing.
Or the very common, ‘I really want an apple, but it’s 90 calories, and a peach is 40, so I’m going to have a peach.’
There’s just no reason to have these sorts of discussions with yourself. They can lead to guilt and shame around food, which are both associated with, you guessed it: diets.
As far as the daily weighing goes, it’s important to note that day-to-day weight fluctuations of up to 5lb are normal, and they don’t necessarily mean that you’re not ‘on track’. If you’re going to weigh yourself, I’d recommend doing it less often to get a more accurate picture of where you’re really at.
But let it be known that any program that focuses this hard on numbers like weight and calories, IS A DIET.
And don’t be mistaken: Noom is definitely all about weight loss. One of the classic hallmarks of a diet is a program where the primary outcome measure is weight loss.
Oh hi, Noom!
The traffic light approach
Noom categorizes foods into Green, Yellow, and Red categories, based on their caloric density. This is unfortunate, since it means that some nourishing foods such as nuts and nut butters land in the Red group beside cake because they’re higher in calories for their serving sizes. Avocado is in the yellow group.
Crazy enough, Noom gives fat-free dairy the ‘green’ light, but full-fat dairy is a ‘red’ food. So is popcorn, which is a whole grain.
And if you’re a vegan, tough luck. All of the vegan proteins, from tofu to seitan to beans and lentils, are in the yellow group. There are zero vegan proteins in ‘green.’
Noom recommends a 30-45-25 split between Green, Yellow, and Red foods. They also make it clear that ‘Green’ doesn’t mean ‘good’ and Red doesn’t mean ‘bad’. Still, I’m not a fan of the ‘traffic light’ method of categorization, because people will invariably link ‘Red’ foods to ‘Danger’ or ‘Bad’.
In fact, one of my followers recently messaged me to say that people in her Facebook Noom group try to avoid the ‘red’ foods altogether, because they’re ‘bad.’
See? It’s human nature. Red = stop. Red = bad.
Red flag. Stoplight lists, ‘eat-do not eat’ lists, ‘good food-bad food’ lists, those are all diet behaviour.
Each day, Noom followers get a summary of what they ate, categorized as follows:
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of guilt that I’ve gotten when, in the past, I’ve gone over my allotment of calories. So I feel like the same might be true when someone gets that exclamation mark ‘you better watch it!’ sort of warning that you see in the photo.
Listen, I had a huge problem with the traffic light system with Weight Watchers ultra-faulty kids diet program ‘Kurbo,’ and I have a problem with it here, too. That’s all.
The Noom daily readings
While Noom has some positive research behind it, I’ve heard some people complain that the program sends a ton of daily reading. To be honest, it wasn’t that much, and I thought it was okay.
I had articles about building my ‘frustration tolerance’ – being able to work through short-term discomfort for long-term goals; thought distortions and battling negative thoughts; types of eating (ie do I eat for comfort, etc.); conquering cravings, and other interesting and applicable topics.
The literature was easy to understand, and depending on some of the choices you select within the pages, it’s tailored to you. It’s not mandatory to read, either. Here’s a screenshot of the typical sort of reading material you’ll receive:
Every day, Noom sets you up with a checklist: a few educational and motivational reads, a weigh-in reminder, a meal logging reminder, and a test to review things you’ve learned in the previous days.
Everything is light and fun, with cute graphics and easy-to-complete structure.
This is one of my checklists:
My coach was very sweet and helpful, happily answering all of my questions about her experience and about the program. When I had trouble with some aspects of the program, she was right there with solutions.
Unlike most ‘coaches’ who work for diet programs, Noom’s coaches must complete the ‘core lifestyle coach training’ at ‘Noomiversity’ which is recognized by the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Training.
They also have weekly trainings and must have a bachelor’s or associates degree in a related area like nutrition or personal coaching, plus 2000 hours of experience.
Although it’s not to the level of an RD, that’s quite a step up from other diet program ‘coaches’, whose experience generally ranges from none to ‘I lost some weight’. I’m not saying that Noom’s coaches are the best ever, I just wanted to give them some credit for being more prepared than, say, some person selling Optavia and calling themselves a ‘coach.’
For example, I wanted to see if I could get around the weighing and tracking part of Noom, since a lot of people just find it triggering.
My coach responded that while weighing and tracking are meant to be beneficial to me, I should stop doing them if they don’t feel that way. Good answer! She then went on to ask what I thought a more positive routine would look like for me.
I loved how she turned my situation around to let me talk out solutions with her, instead of just telling me what to do.
But, It wasn’t all good.
One thing I didn’t like was when I asked my coach what I could do about the low calorie level the app assigned to me. 1200 calories is starvation for me (and for most people), and even when I adjusted things, my max calorie allowance was 1350 per day. ACK.
In response, my coach told me that when I exercise, I get those calories back in my allowance, so that will give me some wiggle room.
Here we have our next red flag: exercising off food you’ve eaten.
I then pressed her about the concept of doing exercise for a ‘food reward’, because essentially that’s what was going on here. You know from my recent post about why you can’t exercise off your food or even try, that exercising to burn food off is never a good idea, because your body just doesn’t work that way. It’s also disordered AF.
She told me that the extra calories you get from exercise are to refuel after working out, not to reward yourself with food, which is never a good plan. Still, the ‘making up’ of calories by exercise is not a healthy way of looking at food and how the body works. Here’s part of the convo:
Even though it’s a diet and I wouldn’t recommend it, Noom had a couple of good points.
I liked that Noom doesn’t just toss you a meal plan and some supplements and tell you to get started. They work on the behavior change aspect of weight loss and help you understand WHY you’re eating, then give you solutions to manage those ‘whys’.
It’s sort of like my book, Good Food, Bad Diet – but my book isn’t a diet like Noom is.
My coach knew her stuff and responded quickly to my messages. Noom’s coaching requirements are more stringent than most, which is good; if you’re going to be coaching other people on their nutrition and you’re not an RD, you should at least have some relevant training.
That being said, many people I’ve heard from have said that their coaches sounded like bots. One said that her coach told her not to eat fruit. Some people have told me that their coaches were unresponsive. So, it’s a mixed bag. Not okay.
The content was very easy to read and very actionable. While some people complain about the amount of reading, none of it is mandatory, and it’s all short and fun. It’s also tailored to your concerns.
You don’t have to buy supplements, special meals, or fancy foods. Thank you Noom for realizing that losing weight does not need to include any of the above.
What I Don’t Like About Noom
Let’s get one thing straight: as much as Noom tries to not be seen as a diet, IT’S A DIET. Calorie tracking, calorie budgets, daily weights, and the categorization of food as red, yellow, or green are all diet behaviors. There’s just no way around it.
Noom seems to assign a 1200 calorie budget to a lot of users. This is not realistic or sustainable for the long-term for most people. It’s a low-calorie diet. Period.
You don’t ‘make up’ calories with exercise, and thinking this way can mess up your relationship with food and activity. In that, exercise becomes a way to ‘earn’ food, or punish your way out of overeating.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that you never need to ‘earn’ food with dieting or exercising.
I don’t know why tracking apps do this whole ‘adding calories back for exercise’ thing, instead of just assigning a more realistic calorie goal to users. Or maybe just not assign a calorie goal at all.
The program is pretty full-on. There’s no starting slowly; you’re either in or you’re out. A friend of mine quit after a few weeks because she got overwhelmed. We all have different tolerance levels for making changes, and if you’re a slow and steady sort of person, Noom can hit you like a ton of bricks.
While the program asked a couple of rudimentary questions about medical history, it never asked about history of eating disorders. Even when I tried to trigger a red flag by putting in a crazy low goal weight for my height, Noom just accepted it. That’s not okay.
I also tried to check ‘other’ in medical history and it didn’t prompt me for more info. This program is NOT for people who have or have had eating disorders, or who are triggered by weighing and tracking food.
Noom is a 16-week program, and I didn’t take it for that long, but I’m told that there’s really no maintenance component.
The daily weights and tracking. Some people benefit from those things, many do not. That being said, no one program works for everyone, so Noom will be fine for people who like to track everything. For 99% of people, that’s not something I recommend.
Noom is a diet. By selling itself as a non-diet, it’s doing a crazy bait-and-switch that’s disingenuous at best and harmful at worst.
I know a lot of you want to lose weight, but eating a low-calorie diet while weighing yourself daily and tracking everything you put into your mouth is going to take you down the wrong road. Diets work, but not for the long-term. That’s the problem with them: you come out of them physically and emotionally LESS healthy. And those effects last for a lot longer than the diet ever did, impacting your life potentially for years to come.
Working with a dietitian on behaviour change, realistic goals, and tweaking what you’re already eating is a much better, and healthier, option for most people.