It's no secret that fad diet plans tend to backfire. Establishing new healthy habits is what leads to lasting change and well-being for life. Enter Noom, the weight-loss app and personalized meal-planning service with more than 45 million users that became one of the most Googled diets in 2019. While it's definitely trendy, Noom is all about making long-term changes to achieve weight-loss goals.
What is Noom?
Targeted at millennials, Noom is a health app designed by behavioral psychologists, nutritionists, and personal trainers to help you lose weight for the long run. It focuses on making tangible, sustainable lifestyle shifts rather than encouraging more extreme styles of eating (e.g., cutting out specific food groups or nutrients). The app, which costs a minimum of $49 per month, allows you to:
- Generate a personalized calorie breakdown based on a series of lifestyle questions
- Track the foods you eat by searching a database or scanning barcodes
- Log exercise, weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar
- Receive in-app 1:1 health coaching during business hours
- Stay motivated with interactive articles and quizzes
Since it was developed by psych docs, the ideology behind the coaching and content is designed to "'trick' your body into building healthy habits, faster," Noom states. They also claim that people who use the Noom app and adapt a healthy lifestyle lose an average of 18 pounds in just 16 weeks.
The best thing about the Noom app is that it encourages eating real, whole foods and recommends more nutrient-dense meals and snacks as often as possible. After taking a quiz that asks questions about how active you are, how much weight you’d like to lose (if any), and other medical conditions and demographic factors, an algorithm breaks down your personalized energy needs and how many calories to eat from protein, fat, and carbs.
To help you follow those guidelines, the app asks you to log what you eat, an evidence-based method that helps you stay in touch with how much you’re eating and what types of foods you gravitate towards. You'll search the database of more than 150,000 foods, or scan the barcode on packaged items when you're food shopping, to get feedback and keep yourself on track. The app rewards you for eating wholesome, nutrient-dense foods through its color-coded system. According to recent research from Duke University, those who may be overweight or obese and choose to track their daily meals using a smartphone app actually were able to lose a significant amount of weight. This research, published in the journal JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth in early 2019, suggests that those who regularly input their meals into tracking apps were able to lose more weight than those who were simply trying to watch their diet. And more than 77% of Noom users reported losing weight after using the app for nine months, according to 2016 Scientific Reports study that looked at data from more than 35,000 people.
The individualized coaching is also essential, since it provides a veritable cheerleading team through your phone who can help you stay engaged with the platform. Each day, you receive a personalized list of steps to check off designed to reach your established goals. The feedback draws on psychology, nutrition, and exercise physiology. An assigned coach (approved by the National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches, but not necessarily a registered dietitian or certified trainer), can offer advice during between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. Mini health articles and over 1,000 recipes are available as well on the app that provide helpful tools to keep you on track.
You can also log blood pressure and blood sugar manually or by syncing app-friendly devices, which is key for anyone looking to track their progress or share their data with a physician or family member. But what makes Noom really stand out is that it encourages community. Groups of goal-setters can offer support and chat real-time — a great model for anyone who feels encouraged by interpersonal communication and camaraderie (er, everyone, right?!).
The $49 per month minimum is pretty pricey, and one of the primary complaints online is whether or not the app is "worth it." Other health apps (like MyFitnessPal) provide similar food tracking capabilities designed for healthier habit formation free of charge. In fact, the same Duke University research focused on free apps for people to track their progress, showing there might not be a difference in results whether or not you pay for the service. Plus, Noom is only available through an app on your smartphone which is frustrating if you want to browse on your computer or tablet, especially for the money you are paying.
Another major downside: the aforementioned hours of operation. While it’s not exactly practical to make the provided coaches available 24/7, it’s often outside the work day — dining out, traveling, and at night — that many of the nutrition questions or dieting pitfalls come up. If you want after-hours support, the app can assign a goal specialist at an additional charge, but the cost may make it limiting.
Lastly, another bone to pick with Noom is about the language used to encourage and inspire behavior change. The iTunes description alone uses questionable phrases like "'trick' your body," and "master your triggers." From both a clinical opinion and as a consumer, these words sound ever-so-slightly shy of condescension.
Using language that makes you feel as though you’re doing something wrong or abnormal (requiring a "fix") makes us question the execution of the app at large. We’re living, breathing humans with real feelings and real biological needs — not some technology software that needs an "update" in order to hack our health.
The Bottom Line
Since Noom does encourage habit formation and there are some real, substantial benefits to the behavior-change-for-life systems used to help guide you, it might be worth doing the 14-day trial period. (You can cancel at any point during the two weeks without getting charged, as long as you don’t purchase any subscriptions within the app itself.)
That said, if for any reason you feel as though the the app’s content or coaching platforms trigger feelings of shame or unworthiness, it’s time to consciously unsubscribe. Using apps for accountability may be helpful for some people, though it doesn't guarantee it will universally work for everyone — especially since achieving better health and weight loss is highly dependent on your personal taste and health goals. Knowing what works for you versus what seemingly works for everyone else can be tricky to navigate on a platform you’re paying for. Better health and weight loss requires you to be in the driver’s seat about the changes you make to reach your goals — within the framework of your own personal boundaries, be it emotional, physical, or psychological. Remember that, and you’re already on the right path to better health for life.
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