What Is the Noom Diet?

Everything you should know about ‘Weight Watchers for Millennials’

Photo: Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

AAsk any dietitian or weight loss professional what they think about fill-in-the-blank diet and they’ll usually say fad dieting is a waste of time, and healthy eating works.

WWeight loss and nutrition are about the long haul. The best results come from plans that aren’t plans at all, but rather a lifestyle that works every single day. That could be why Noom, the top trending diet on Google in 2018 (which has also been dubbed “Weight Watchers for Millennials”) has become so popular, with its app racking up over 47 million users. Noom uses an algorithm to spit out individualized diet and weight loss plans, provides users with access to health coaches, and claims to play the long game.

How exactly does it work — and could it be the weight loss solution it’s hyped up to be? Here’s a primer.

How Noom Works

The Noom app offers two monthly memberships: a “Healthy Weight Program” and a “Diabetes Prevention Program” (which, by the way, is recognized as a lifestyle change program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first mobile program to earn the designation).

After the app is downloaded, the user fills out a questionnaire that asks for height, weight, goals, lifestyle, experience with dieting, and more. Once complete, the app provides a 16-week nutrition plan with calorie recommendations and connects the user with a health coach.

Noom uses a color-coding system for foods, labeling them green, yellow, and red. The company says the system isn’t meant to label foods “good” or “bad,” per se, but rather to be used as a portion guide. Foods that are low in calories or high in nutrients, or both, are labeled green (spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes). Foods high in calories (oils, seeds, nuts) or low in nutrients, or both, are red. Yellow foods (grilled chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt) land in the middle.

Users track their daily food intake and physical activity (Noom connects with Fitbit, iHealth, Polar, and other wearables) and are provided with articles related to weight loss and dieting along the way. It’s also possible to connect with other app users for social support.

“In the never-ending quest for a ‘magic bullet for weight loss,’ self-monitoring is the closest thing that we have.”

Is Noom Effective?

A 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports analyzed data from about 36,000 Noom users and found that over nine months, about 78% of people reported losing weight. Another small study published in the British Medical Journal of people who used Noom’s Diabetes Prevention Program found that, over the course of 24 weeks, people in the program lost an average of 7.5% of their body weight. The study also found that people in the study were highly engaged with the app and that the self-monitoring aspect of the program was likely a big predictor of weight loss.

“Practically every research study that has ever been conducted on weight loss tells us the same story: People who keep some kind of document around their eating behaviors will lose more weight — and will keep it off for longer — than people who don’t keep track,” says Katie Rickel, Ph.D., CEO of Structure House, a weight loss facility in Durham, North Carolina. “In the never-ending quest for a ‘magic bullet for weight loss,’ self-monitoring is the closest thing that we have.” (Rickel was not involved in the study).

It’s worth noting that neither study followed the people using the app over the long term to see if the weight loss was sustainable.

The Benefits

Beyond the personal accountability aspect, Chicago-based registered dietitian Amanda Baker Lemein says she likes that Noom explains what makes certain foods healthy. “Noom seems to provide more of the ‘why’ behind healthy eating by explaining how some foods are more nutrient-dense than others, versus other programs that might simply list do’s and don’ts,” she says. “It can be hard to make any lasting changes without that baseline education for nutrition and how different foods do different jobs in our bodies.”

Taking a person’s uniqueness into account is important too, she adds. “Long-term success happens when the individual has a plan tailored to their needs, lifestyle, and preferences, along with foundational knowledge for nutrition and health.”

Community support may also make the app a more attractive choice. The American Psychological Association says people tend to follow exercise and weight loss programs better if a buddy is involved.

The Downsides

Noom isn’t free. Pricing varies depending on the plan, but options include a $59 per month plan and an annual plan for $199. (The 14-day trial is $1).

Additionally, critics cite the fact that Noom’s health coaches are not necessarily registered dietitians with training to provide medical nutrition therapy to prevent, manage, or even treat certain medical conditions with food. People can often get insurance coverage for in-person registered dietitian consultations, but app-based care is not usually covered. That said, Noom is an accredited program with the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching.

Also, despite a disclaimer that green foods don’t mean “good” and red foods don’t mean “bad,” color-coded food can promote this mentality, says Baker Lemein, which could potentially steer people away from healthy foods in the red category, such as nuts or olive oil.

The Bottom Line

If you have the resources and are interested in learning more about health in a way that could potentially benefit you, Noom could be worth a shot. However, many people are able to meet weight loss and diet goals on their own, and an app like Noom might not be worth the cost.

One important takeaway if you’re trying to lose weight or clean up your diet (whether you’re using Noom or not): Keep track of your habits. Self-monitoring increases awareness and mindfulness, notes Rickel. “We cannot change behavior of which we are not aware, and for many behaviors with negative consequences, we are much less likely to continue the behavior when we become aware of it,” she says.

Cassie Shortsleeve is a Boston-based writer. Her work has been published in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Shape, + other publications. Follow her @cshortsleeve.

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