The Noom app is a dieting program that offers personalized nutrition coaching for people who are looking to lose weight. Is it worth the money? Or, is Noom a scam?
Is Noom just another diet that will end up failing in the long term, like all of the others? These are some of the questions I am going to answer with this blog post.
But first, let me reassure you that curiosity is a good thing. Considering all options in a situation allows you (and empowers you) to find the best solution for you, your lifestyle and your goals.
As an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I am always advocating for the best, long-term, big picture solutions for my clients…and let me tell you, they aren’t diets.
As a savvy consumer, you’re gonna want the full deets – bravo! Thanks for allowing me to explain.
As we begin…picture this:
can you relate?
You’re going about your day, minding your business…and suddenly you can’t seem to get away from intrusive advertisements for Noom.
…you’re listening to your favorite podcast and bam: Noom ad
…you’re scrolling your Insta feed and bam: Noom ad.
It’s like Noom is everywhere telling stories of success!
It makes you wonder: am I missing something?
Is Noom really the answer…or is Noom a scam?
Your curiosity is bubbling…is this plan different from the other diets that you’ve tried?
diets don’t last long term
Here’s the tricky thing about research and testimonials for various diet plans and products: they simply don’t work long term.
When you see research results or testimonials, there is always a limit on how long the participants have been tracked for. Noom is no different – folks can follow just about any plan for a short period of time, and that’s what you’ll see testimonials for. It might “work” for the short term.
But longer-term? This is another tale to tell.
One of my clients is a recovering ex-dieter and had tried many different plans before finally being ready to give up dieting and enjoying food freedom.
She had “success” following Noom for a while. She lost 20 pounds and felt proud…until she began to feel resentful of her calorie limits and the exercise. Those feelings of pride didn’t last…and they didn’t outweigh the new feelings of resentment and diet fatigue.
She lost the motivation…and she gained the weight back.
…and she felt so defeated.
And although she felt like it was her fault or a lack of willpower, it is simply the failure of a restrictive diet plan. This happened seven months into her Noom journey. When do most testimonials take place? After month six.
Unless you can tolerate the constant guilt and deprivation my client felt — diets don’t work. This includes Noom. My mission (and I hope you accept) is to have a life free from diet plans. Food freedom empowers you to show up to your life fully and without a shred of negativity about your body or food choices
This client of mine was at the end of her rope and ready for a new plan: one without dieting.
So you may be wondering…how is Noom a diet? I thought it was different.
what is the “psychology” they keep referring to?
Noom is rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is abbreviated CBT.
CBT is a tool used in many fields to guide behavior change. It isn’t “good” or “bad,” CBT is simply a tool. What matters is how you use the tool.
CBT can be used for:
- Goal setting
- Self-monitoring (tracking)
- Boosting belief you can do a task or project
- Working towards incentives, like a star chart
The way weight loss programs – including Noom – usually do these things is by getting you hyped-up on how it’s going to feel when you lose weight, asking you WHY you want to lose weight, and reminding you of a specific event in the near future where you get to cash-in on your reward.
Internal motivation isn’t bad either…we just want to be working towards sustainable and life-affirming goals. More on that in a sec.
I signed up for Noom so that I could thoroughly investigate it and write my review with experience. When I was signing up, it got me to say that I was going to a wedding soon, and might I want to be smaller for that?
These techniques in and of themselves aren’t problematic, what’s problematic is
- Noom reinforcing the idea that a smaller body = better and/or happier
- Though CBT is powerful – human behavior is MUCH more complicated than just one framework.
- That an app can decide what size is the “right” size for you or how many calories are the right level. I don’t think so.
Human beings ALSO require autonomy to thrive. No one puts you (or baby) in the corner!
And when Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for weight loss requires that you organize all of your thoughts and feelings around the “rewards” of eating a 1,200 calorie diet, the trade-off is that you lose your sense of autonomy.
You feel deprived.
And the app may have completely missed the mark on what size your body should be based on your genes, lifestyle, set point weight and so on.
This is where Noom’s psychology fails: the technique of imagining your amazing new future winds up becoming a lie. We aren’t simple creatures that can be understood or managed by a simple app.
what to expect when signing up
Curious what it is like to sign up for Noom? This was my experience going through the motions so that I could check this service out fully in preparation for this blog article.
You kick things off with a very long quiz. From what I can tell, Noom is trying to figure out how fast or slow you want to lose weight (and the assumption is that everyone wants to lose weight).
After the quiz, they offer you a free trial – I accepted. I paid 0.05 cents.
And if I don’t cancel in time I’ll be paying $100. As I moved through the sign up they kept asking: am I sure I don’t just want to invest? Invest is such an interesting verb…you’re not wasting money, you’re investing in your weight loss dreams.
Like many other diet programs, there seems to be some amount of revenue made from the promise of weight loss, rather than the weight loss itself.
As I entered the app, a cute audio recording greeted me. It told me that the most important thing I need for weight loss is to believe.
But: believing in yourself only goes so far.
In all their focus around the psychology of weight loss, they forget to address the biology of weight. If weight loss were as simple as calories in vs. calories out there wouldn’t be a $72 billion diet industry today. Once again: we are complex creatures under the firm influence of biology, psychology and our environment.
Weight loss is not as simple as deciding who you are and what you want to be.
Genetics and MANY other factors are involved in what your weight is today. This includes your past history with weight loss which may resist the very methods that Noom is teaching.
I was given a calorie level of 1,200. Ugh.
Where Noom and the anti-diet movement may overlap is in the use of language around understanding why and how you eat versus what you eat being the center focus.
While these are also tools in the toolbox, this feels inauthentic in the case of Noom because the entire app is centered around logging, controlling, and preplanning what you eat to achieve a calorie level far below your biological needs.
Noom is using psychology to push you into starvation mode.
belief only gets you so far
Self-efficacy is the belief in yourself.
Self-efficacy is a tool. A tool that I can use to believe in my ability to do many things. But even if Tinkerbell says so, I have not yet been able to believe my way into flying to Never Never Land.
I can use self-efficacy to prevent myself from going to the bathroom in a public setting. I use self-efficacy to hold my breath for a while…until my bladder and lungs say otherwise.
Self-efficacy and self-advocacy are concepts woven through CBT and can apply in certain situations, but they are misapplied in the context of weight loss.
Self-efficacy only works for things that don’t defy the laws of physics. One of the first things you’re told when you download the Noom app is that the only thing you need to succeed at weight loss is to believe.
And that’s bananas.
Here’s what I really don’t like. Technically, it is gaslighting to tell you that the only reason you are failing at this is that you don’t believe enough.
Noom is positioning itself as “new psychology” but actually relies on the “it’s your fault for not wanting it bad enough” tactics of nearly every diet before. For all of their focus around the psychology of weight, they forget to address the biology of weight. And I can’t give that significant omission a pass.
Weight loss is not as simple as deciding who you are and what you want to be. There are genetics and other factors involved including your past history with weight loss which may prevent or at least cause you or your body to be resistant to the very methods that Noom is teaching.
noom is nothing new… it’s just calorie counting
So what are the methods that Noom is teaching?
At the end of the day, Noom is just a calorie tracking app. Period.
There are some characteristics that are worthwhile and offer flexibility. Positively, the app tells you that
- All foods fit (Yes! They all do!)
- Exercise is optional, but encouraged.
This means that they are relying on restriction of your calories overall to drive weight loss, yet somehow repeat over and over again this isn’t a diet. This is a lie.
Then they layer in a labeling system of green/yellow/red foods. So even though all foods fit, some foods feel “bad” because they’re labeled as yellow or (gasp) red. I’m getting feedback consistent with CBT, but the feedback is to stop and restrict. I couldn’t help but notice that my chia seeds and salmon were labeled as “red foods.”
Poof. There goes my freedom.
In the next breath, it gets worse. The audio tutorials say “no bad foods! Just bad habits!” – which has me feeling like I’m the problem now.
This is how the language of diets can mess with your self-esteem over time. You think: “Of course, my weight is a problem and of course, it is my fault…this is what I’ve been beating myself up about all along.”
As I mentioned above, in preparation for this blog I completed a trial of the Noom app and was given a 1,200 calorie limit…which I promptly used up by 3 PM. Though all foods “fit”, the salmon and chia seeds from earlier were “red”. Even though they are both rich in nourishing, essential omega-3 fatty acids – the red label had me second-guessing the choice. Not to mention the rapidly disappearing calorie allotment.
And friend, this is how calorie apps get you focused away from nutrition and health in favor of weight.
And the thing is, they’re nice when you go over your calorie limit or eat red foods. They’re nice if you forget to track. The app tells you not to sweat it if your weight doesn’t move — but we are sweating it aren’t we?
We just got through getting excited about our new, smaller body. We are spending hours tracking and fussing over the scale. How could you not? Especially when we live in a world that celebrates thinner bodies…
I do give Noom credit for *TRYING* to make dieting less sucky and more flexible – but at the end of the day, you have to call a spade a spade. It isn’t enough to not be a scam.
Noom is a diet because it is all about restriction. Period.
what does noom do well?
I always make every effort to be as balanced as possible. There are some good aspects of the Noom app that are supportive and helpful.
What I like is that Noom does make an effort to support good habits around quality sleep, purposeful movement, and reducing stress. All of these things are important for a healthy life, but you don’t need a weight loss app to pursue them. And you don’t need to lose weight to pursue them.
I also liked that it encourages you to increase walking in slow, steady increments. This felt sustainable as a practice. Walking is accessible and enjoyable to most of us and the goals that Noom recommends are reasonable.
I like that Noom encourages meditation and mindfulness. As our daily lives get more hectic and chaotic, the time to unwind and recenter is wonderful.
And although they offer support with emotional coping, it wasn’t included in the trial that I completed.
So, all of these habits supported in this section are great. But we can accomplish them without a dieting app.
the big issue is this…
For anything positive Noom provides, they offer faux freedom for a LOT of work.
Much of it is NOT new to anyone who has dieted before. For example:
- Education about how to use your palm portion size (this literally made me CRINGE! Dieters are so over this!)
- Calorie counting
- Red, yellow, and green categorized foods that give you the feeling of points
- Daily weigh-ins (they literally say get ready to meet your frenemy when they introduce this “skill” – double ugh!)
- “Moderation” around foods (one tutorial says what would make your weight fluctuate? And jokes “if you’re stranded on a desert island …or a dessert island!” implying that desserts make you fat.
- They explain how to reduce calories in cheeseburgers “that’s 11 cheeseburgers!” as if all bigger people eat cheeseburgers? Fatphobia, much?
For most people, being this involved and controlled with their eating choices is simply not sustainable long term and for some, may lead to disordered eating patterns. So the “results” that the app promises and promotes in its testimonials are short-term.
You deserve long-term solutions. Noom cannot promote that for most of its participants.
here is what I would change:
My goal is not to promote restrictive diets, but if I were in charge of making some changes to the Noom app to make it better, here’s what I’d change.
A realistic promise
I’d be more okay with this app if they said “at most we can offer 5% -10% weight loss sustainably, if that is what your body genetically and biologically wants, and you will need to commit to weighing and tracking forever in order to keep it there.”
Because THAT’s what the research shows. The few that can lose weight and keep it off are
using methods like this for a lifetime. (Yes, a lifetime.)
In my experience, using the app to track calories is kind of slow and tedious…it takes a long time to track. I can’t say that this is a better or worse user experience than other popular tracking apps, it simply consumes a lot of your time and energy to participate. Plus, this type of logging is rarely accurate or useful for most folks trying to learn the patterns of eating that make them feel good AND feel sustainable long term.
Instead of wasting your time on calorie tracking – offering an option to track mood, hunger and fullness, health behavior goals you’ve completed, or other body cues would be more helpful giving feedback on what, when, and how much food makes you feel best.
No more palms
They literally include a picture of palm portions which anyone who’s been on a diet plan has been exposed to at least 1000 times — not new!
Noom offers the ability to pay extra to work with a live coach. I am a huge advocate for support as you’re making lifestyle changes…but I want them to be actual experts. The “coaches” for Noom are not registered dietitians. They are not nutrition and wellness experts. And their training script? “Stick to the app.” Pass!
key takeaways: is noom a scam?
I’m so proud of you for continuing to look for the right solutions that support the life you want to live. I encourage you to shed the weight of diet culture. It is hard (so hard), but you’re worth it.
What if you could be in a place that has true freedom? One without calorie limits, “good” and “bad” foods and daily weigh-ins…doesn’t that sound nice?
I can help you to become the very next ex-dieter.
It’s time for the No Guilt Framework. This guide is for women who want to feel supported by a trusted community as they work through a tried-and-true framework so they can become the first in their families to break the diet cycle.