Noom Is the Diet Taking Over Instagram, but Does It Work?
I'm a nutritionist, and I tried the Noom diet app for two weeks—here's what I thought.
Have ads for something called "Noom" been popping up in your social media feed? At first I thought it might be a genetic testing kit, but it turns out Noom is a weight-loss app—one that’s got an estimated 45 million active users, a pretty significant number considering there are over 20,0000 weight-loss apps available. So what is Noom getting right, or doing differently, to stand out in the sea of weight loss apps? I decided to try it out to learn more.
What Is Noom?
Noom describes itself as a program to “help you live a healthier life by helping you create better habits,” and the app is designed to be your personal weight loss coach. Noom says its users have an “average weight loss of 18 pounds in 16 weeks”—a healthy weight loss rate that suggested that it could have more substance than the average diet app. It’s also referred to by many as “Weight Watchers for Millennials”—a pretty big statement considering Weight Watchers’ (WW) huge following and solid, science-based design. I was excited to check Noom out, yet highly doubtful that an app could really be effective.
Noom’s Weight Loss Approach
The weight loss app uses a whole lifestyle approach, meaning the focus isn’t just on the food eaten. Though food choices are key, the app focuses more on the psychological aspects behind those choices and slowly changing old habits. Noom’s big-picture approach reminds me of WW’s design, and I found other similarities between the two.
A “no-food-off-limits” approach
Similar to how each food has a unique points value at WW, Noom color-codes foods as green, yellow and red to help guide daily food choices, advising that it’s okay to eat from all three colors.
A leader or coach available for individualized help and support
Rather than a leader like at WW, each Noom user is assigned a Goal Specialist (GS) or coach who is there to give you individual guidance and support. You also connect with them at least once a week through the app’s messaging system to set new, short-term goal. Depending on the user’s desire for support and interaction, you can have ongoing dialogue with your GS during the work week if desired, something similar to WW programming.
Weekly focus areas
Both Noom and WW have a different weekly topics to address a variety of health and eating-related areas. I found Noom’s content concise, down-to-earth, and very applicable.
Group are available to join, depending on how interactive a user wants to be. I have a tendency to work just with my leader or GS (mainly because of time constraints), but the ability to tap into groups to ask questions or get support is nice when needed.
No, you aren’t going to a center to step on a scale, but Noom strongly encourages you to weigh and record your weight weekly, if not daily. And your GS will work with you to set new weekly goals.
How Is Noom Different From Weight Watchers?
WW offers a user-friendly app, but it’s primarily used to support the in-person and online programs. On the other hand, Noom’s program is all app-based. Yet its completely virtual approach still delivers solid science, practical coaching, and applicable behavior change techniques for about $49.50/month (after a free, 14-day trial).
Noom says on their website, "Other weight loss programs don't tackle the thoughts, triggers, and obstacles that can sabotage your progress. Our approach helps you tackle the mental and emotional barriers between where you are and where you want to be."
What’s the Big Deal?
Noom sounds good, but if you haven’t heard anything groundbreaking in my description yet, bear with me. It was only after using the app for several days that I realized it was the app’s more subtle aspects—particularly in regard to approach and communication—that set it apart. Here are two things that stood out to me:
Big Picture, Behavior Change Approach
There’s a reason many diet programs don’t work and results can’t be sustained: they make food the primary focus. They fail to acknowledge that eating isn’t as simple as knowing what to eat, but instead is influenced by things like time (or lack of), emotional needs, existing habits and accepted norms. Noom’s emphasis on food is pretty minimal for a weight loss app. It tries to address more aspects than just food, so users can start to change underlying behaviors and habits. In fact, one of the first things users are asked to do is to set a “Big Picture Goal”—a goal that has nothing to do with a number on the scale.
Interaction and Communication
Accountability is key, but I have a tendency to be more introverted (read: regular check-ins aren’t my favorite thing). And, with an already packed schedule, dropping by a center to weigh-in is easy to blow off—which made the virtual accountability with my GS and group ideal for my schedule and personality.
But here’s the other part: For accountability to be effective, I’ve got to connect with the person holding me accountable and buy into their messages which means no cheesy, cliché support or messages—something I didn’t find with the Noom program or with my GS Nikki. In fact, Nikki’s feedback was practical, quick, and actually helpful. The interaction felt genuine and something that I could commit to and continue because it felt like texting with a colleague or friend who you didn’t want to let down.
I like that Noom’s focus goes way beyond calories and food, and the app’s virtual approach was convenient while also providing a feeling of connectedness to a real program and coach. Sure, some days a message from my GS was the last thing I really wanted to respond to, but I guess that’s where accountability factor comes in to play—something I know I need. I see the appeal to technology-raised Millennials, as well as to those a little older like myself. While Noom may not be a fit for all, I was surprised to discover that an app could really rival other effective programs like Weight Watchers.