"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."
Noom is a popular weight-loss app and personalized meal-planning service that’s taken off in the past few years. The brand reportedly pulled in $400 million in 2020, so clearly plenty of people are turning to the app to help them lose weight and keep it off.
Plenty of people swear that Noom helped them reach their 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.
For all of its popularity, Noom has had some controversy. Some former users allege that it encourages disordered eating and severe calorie restriction that isn’t healthy.
“As a 4-week postpartum and exclusively breastfeeding mother, Noom told me to eat 1200 calories a day,” one former user wrote on Twitter. “This is not an app. it is an extremely harmful, capitalistic approach to completely disordered eating,” another person wrote.
With all the talk surrounding Noom, you probably have questions about what, exactly, Noom is and how it all works. Here’s what you need to know.
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. 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 $59 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.
How does Noom work?
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.
“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.”
What foods can you eat on Noom?
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.
Noom asks that you try to aim for a daily balance that includes 30% or more of your foods being from the green group, 45% from the yellow group, and 25% or less from the red group. A good way to approach this, per Jessica Cording, R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers, is to mentally divvy up your plate at each meal—that saves you from having to plan out your meals for the entire day at once or do math at the end of the day to see if you’ve hit your goals.
There are a lot of different foods in each category, but here’s a breakdown of what you can expect with green, yellow, and red foods:
Green foods on Noom
These usually include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Whole wheat bread
Whole grain pasta
Brown rice noodles
Broiled or grilled mahi mahi
Yellow foods on Noom
Yellow foods largely center around starches, lean meats, and low-fat cheeses.
Whole wheat bagels
Red foods on Noom
Red foods are often calorie-dense.
Butter and margarine
Red and white wine
What does a sample menu look like on Noom?
There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing foods on Noom, but it can be helpful to have some idea of what you’ll eat on the plan. Cording offers up these Noom-friendly meal ideas:
Rolled oats made with 2% milk with blueberries on top and teaspoon of your favorite nut or seed butter
An omelette made with a whole egg and egg whites with plenty of vegetables and a slice of whole grain toast
Spinach salad topped with vegetables and grilled chicken with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing
Whole grain pasta with shrimp and vegetables
Baked mahi mahi with green vegetables and a roasted sweet potato
Rotisserie chicken with vegetables and quinoa
Overall, Cording recommends that you “put lots of fruits and veggies on your plate, and make sure there’s a source of protein, healthy fat, and fiber.”
How much is Noom?
Noom isn't cheap. It has a minimum $59 monthly fee, although you can save a little if you sign up for a longer time frame. For example, a two-month plan is $99, and a four-month plan is $129.
By comparison, WW offers a pricing range between $13 and $50 per month, depending on the features and coaching you choose.
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.
Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet, agrees. “This diet can help a person lose weight because of accountability and support,” she says. “If you are truthful and log everything you eat and drink via the Noom app, it will help guide you to stay within your daily calorie allotment.”
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.”
Noom can also be overly restrictive for some people. “Some people who thrive on structure can find that having some way of categorizing foods can help them feel more organized,” Cording says. “But it can lead to overthinking and restricted eating patterns in others. Even though they use a color-coded system, Noom definitely sets up the way of looking at certain foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
The extreme calorie restrictions are also problematic, Cording says, pointing out that 1,200 calories a day is what is typically recommended for a toddler. “It can be very frustrating for people,” she says. “People can lose weight but, when they go into a maintenance phase, it’s hard to sustain that low calorie intake for the long haul.”
Cording also doesn’t agree with the way Noom categorizes all of its foods. “I don’t think hummus, for example, is something that needs to be limited—it’s a good source of fiber and healthy fat,” she says. “There are also some foods in the red category that I don’t feel are appropriate.”
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: If you stick to the advice and meal plans you’re given, you'll likely lose weight over time with Noom.
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.
Support from readers like you helps us do our best work. Go here to subscribe to Prevention and get 12 FREE gifts. And sign up for our FREE newsletter here for daily health, nutrition, and fitness advice.
You Might Also Like