The secret to losing body weight and keeping it off for good? Creating healthy habits you actually enjoy and can stick to consistently. Easier said than done, of course.
Noom is the latest company that wants to change that. The weight loss app and personalized meal-planning service blew up as the third most Googled diet last year. With more than 45 million dedicated users worldwide, the Noom app aims to help people create sustainable habits so they can lose weight at a realistic pace and maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long haul.
Noom users say it’s helping them finally reach their health and weight-loss goals. "I am moving more and making better food choices...I feel like I am erasing 30+ years of bad habits a little each day," wrote one user. Another, who claimed she lost 50 pounds over one year on the plan, said, "Noom helped me work through so many of my life issues where I was stuck! I hit my goal and kept going. I felt like the pace was perfect." Not every review is as stellar, though—scroll through the user reviews and you'll find several complaints about technical issues, communication with coaches, and pricing.
Speaking of pricing, Noom isn't cheap. With a minimum $45 monthly fee (compared with a range between $13 and $50 per month for WW, depending on the features and coaching), is it worth the cost? Here’s what you should know about its pros and cons before you make the commitment.
What is Noom, exactly?
Unlike some other trendy diets that eliminate entire categories of food, such as keto, paleo, or Whole30, or programs that require the purchase of prepackaged meals, such as Optavia, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem, Noom is a plan that teaches you how to make smart choices about real food, without labeling anything as taboo. Its closest competitor (and obvious role model) is WW, which has been around since the 1960s under the name Weight Watchers.
With both WW and Noom, you aim to make sustainable, life-long changes in how you relate to food. Both programs allow leeway to include small portions of your favorite indulgences and assign values to foods based on their nutritional profile (WW uses points; Noom uses colors). A few differences: Noom asks you to count calories, which is not required on WW, and Noom asks you to weigh in every day, while WW encourages stepping on the scale once a week.
Some of the Noom app’s basic features are available for free, like logging your meals, counting your steps, and tracking your weight loss. (They also have a 14-day trial period which you can cancel free-of-charge at any point during the two weeks—though several reviewers complained that you don't get to try out some of the features until it's too late to cancel.) In that sense, Noom is like many other weight loss apps, like MyFitnessPal or the Weight Watchers app.
But in addition to the physical aspects of weight loss, the program also focuses on how to overcome the psychological hurdles through an engaged community and one-on-one coaching.
That’s where the paid courses come in—and where Noom really sets itself apart. They currently offer a healthy weight program, a diabetes prevention program, and hypertension prevention program. These aren’t cheap: The healthy weight program (Noom’s most popular course) will run you up to $50 per month, depending on how many months you commit to up front.
This will give you access to a personal coach during business hours who will guide you through the process and provide personalized feedback on your food selections so you can make more informed meal choices in the future (though, according to many of the user reviews, it can take coaches several days to answer your questions).
However, Noom’s health coaches (or “goal specialists”) are not registered dietitians or certified trainers—they’re volunteers with backgrounds in fields like psychology, social work, nutrition, and exercise physiology who have been trained and approved by the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching.
Beyond personal coaching, you’ll also gain access to daily articles and other interactive content, a custom diet plan (which is created by registered dietitians and nutritionists), workout plans, and a support group of peers with the same goals.
OK, I want to try the app. Now what?
When you first download Noom, you’ll answer a short questionnaire about your current health and lifestyle habits and detail your fitness goals along with your ideal weight. After that, Noom will give you tiny tasks and challenges. On a typical day, Noom might ask you to log your weight, read a positive article, rate your motivation, and try a new vegetable.
You’ll log your workouts and meals, and to make things super simple, the food items are all color-coded from green to yellow to red, indicating their caloric density. It’s fairly intuitive, but “green” foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; “yellow” foods include meats, starches, and low-fat dairy items; and “red” foods include pizza, chocolate, butter, alcohol, and more.
“There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, just foods we would rather have to meet our goals and Noom is approaching this from a similar tact,” says Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. “Being able to learn to make good decisions without having a food label in front of you is a very useful skill, especially for people who find themselves eating out frequently or having work meals catered.”
Unlike other diets that ban entire food groups, Noom doesn’t ask you to cut out anything entirely. Instead, it’s all about moderation and portion control. As you log your meals, Noom will also offer feedback and suggestions for your next meal. “Most importantly, do not take this way of eating to extremes,” their website reads. “This is not a diet. It’s a way of life.”
Plus, making foods taboo actually gives the food power over you, Keatley says. “It’s like we can’t control ourselves if we eat these foods, so we have to keep them out of sight,” he says. “But real control and power is being able to include everything in our diet and still meet our goals.”
Can Noom help you lose weight sustainably?
The countless before-and-after photos across social media are impressive, and clearly some people are shedding pounds—but is there any science behind Noom?
One study about Noom was published in 2016, but it was in an open-access journal (which means it didn’t go through rigorous peer review) and it’s unclear whether Noom may have funded the study. That said, researchers looked at a lot of participants—35,921, to be exact—who regularly used Noom between October 2012 and April 2014—and nearly 80% of them lost weight while using the app.
Everyone is different, but using an app can definitely help people lose weight, “mainly because of the tracking that makes you become accountable for your daily habits,” says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health.
And unlike so many diets that offer a “quick fix” solution to weight loss, Noom’s approach incorporates learning healthy habits that can help you keep the pounds off long-term, if you keep it up. “Once habits take hold, they become second nature so it’s easier to stick with them,” Upton says.
Are there any downsides to Noom?
A major selling point of Noom is the access it gives you to a health coach and meal plans designed by a registered dietitian. “In theory, an app that can offer these services would be a huge plus for anyone who doesn’t have access to a registered dietitian,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging. “I say ‘in theory’ for two reasons: Nothing can replace the one-on-one of individualized counseling sessions with a highly-trained nutrition professional. In addition, it’s unclear exactly how effective Noom’s services really are.”
While there are many positive reviews of the app out there, there are plenty of other people in the App Store who say they found the app “lacking” and “hit-or-miss.”
Every person’s experience is slightly different, but some people aren’t fans of the $45 per month minimum payment, especially since other health apps also allow you to track what you eat for free. Others aren’t impressed with the hours of operation, given that you have to pay extra for after-hours support.
The bottom line: Noom’s approach is safe, information-driven, and holistic, and if you stick to the advice and meal plans you’re given, you'll likely lose weight over time.
The monthly fee will definitely be a deal-breaker for some people, but if you’ve struggled to see results from your current diet and fitness routine and don’t have the resources for in-person counseling, Noom could be worth a try.
But, if you try it out and you find that you feel obsessed with the app and it starts to impact your work, lifestyle, and relationships, it’s time to stop. “It’s a sign that you’ve taken it too far,” Upton says.
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