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Two leaders in the weight loss market think the solution is focusing less on food and more on mindset and overall wellness. We investigated to find out if this approach really works.

Changing one’s relationship with food, coping with stress through meditation, and getting adequate sleep have never been the primary focus of any commercial diet program. So it was pretty groundbreaking when the industry leader WW (previously Weight Watchers) announced in September 2018 that it was overhauling its program to provide a more holistic approach to overall health. And WW isn’t the only one. Noom, a popular app that’s been dubbed the “WW for Millennials”, is based on similar principles. Both WW and Noom place drastically less emphasis on body weight and food, unlike their competitors. Instead, their focus is to improve health by using mindset changes, exploring relationships with food, and modifying health behaviors—a pretty significant change from the classic diet approach.

What’s Wrong With the Classic Diet Approach?

Food choices, calories and body weight have always been the focus for most commercial diets. Typically, there are food guidelines and restrictions, and weight is used as a measure of success or failure. Not only does this set food up to be the bad guy, but it also encourages unhealthy relationships with food and body image. And based on rising obesity rates, it hasn’t worked. But another issue is that this approach ignores the fact that weight loss isn’t as simple as knowing what to eat. Food decisions (and almost all health choices) are heavily influenced by things like emotions, psychological aspects, time, stress, and expectations, so traditional approaches only touch one aspect of eating.

What Makes This Change So Groundbreaking?

WW and Noom have essentially rewritten the classic commercial diet approach by taking the spotlight off food and weight and shifting it to a whole health approach. Both programs focus on learning how to change mindset and behaviors to improve your physical, mental, and psychological health. Weight loss is still an option, but it’s not used as the only measure of success.

A more holistic approach like this is what many health professionals have advised for years. However, consumers have lacked resources and guidance on exactly how to do this since each individual’s health dynamics are so unique and personal. While consumers may not want rules and restrictions, many still want a basic roadmap for how to address this larger view of health. WW and Noom are two of the few programs attempting to provide this roadmap.

Here are few ways that WW and Noom are changing things.  

Weight loss is not the main goal.

The new WW program doesn’t focus on weight loss, unless a member chooses to make that a goal. In fact, WW coaches (previously leaders) are trained to not bring up weight loss or a goal weight unless the member initiates the conversation. Similarly with Noom, individuals are asked during the sign-up to set a “Big Picture Goal” that has nothing to do with body weight.   

Weight loss is not used as a measure of success.

Both programs focus on other “wins” (as WW refers to them), which are things like getting activity, trying a meditation class, and getting adequate hydration. The number on the scale is now one of many health components—not the focus—and weighing is not required at meetings.

The food focus goes beyond choices.

Significantly less emphasis is placed on food choices, and there are no “good” or “bad” with both taking an all-food-fits approach. Yes, both programs provide healthy eating frameworks geared towards those looking lose weight, but both programs promote a balanced way of eating—whether you’re trying to lose weight or not. And food aren’t just about points value or colors (Noom’s color-coded food system), but also what’s influencing decisions and feelings about foods.

Promoting a broader definition of health appears to be at the core to both, but will this work?  There’s limited research so far, but the few studies available that examine incorporating mindful eating are promising. Regardless of research, most will find approaches like WW and Noom realistic and enjoyable and will learn concepts that they can use for life.  

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