By Reva Schlanger MS, RD, CDN
Now that have rung in the new year, a lot of people reflect on their lives and decide to make some different choices. Some people may choose to embark on “dry January” and others may take on a new exercise routine. Unfortunately, the diet industry uses this time to prey on people’s vulnerability and wrap them into a diet that is sure to leave them feeling deprived and powerless. One of the more recent popular app-based programs out there is called Noom and they pride themselves on not being a diet. The app is a weight-loss program that is “designed & scientifically proven to create real, sustainable results” per its marketing.
Noom’s marketing is compelling and has resonated with a lot of people. According to Forbes, Noom has been downloaded more than 50 million times since its launch five years ago1. It’s safe to say Noom is huge and it’s going to keep growing. But behind Noom’s popularity and “no dieting” messaging, it really is just another diet. The app is essentially a calorie tracker supplemented by lessons on behavior change and a personal coach who messages you. Many nutrition and mental health experts have warned that the way Noom presents itself is misleading. Unfortunately, this is the case which can cause people back in that dangerous and frustrating binge-restrict cycle.
This app is designed to help people reach a weight loss goal as fast as they want. They have recommended both men and women consume a measly 1,200 calories per day. Our bodies need a bare minimum of calories to keep us breathing and our heart pumping. Lower than that can lead to slower metabolism, sluggish feeling, and decrease in productivity. That bare minimum number varies, however looking at the recommendations by the US health recommendations show that this number of 1,200 kcal/d that Noom suggests is too low. While people may start to lose weight, as research has shown, after ~6-12 months. People start to regain the weight, often ending up at a higher number than where they started. This weight-cycling puts people at greater risk for developing chronic medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.2
Noom offers a feature that helps calorie tracking with a color-coded food system based on caloric density. Any calorically dense food like olive oil, dried fruit, and French fries are res, slightly “lighter” options like whole grain bread and grilled chicken breast are yellow, and things like berries, egg whites and nonfat dairy are green. The app recommends increasing the number of green foods you eat and limiting the red ones. Although Noom tries to preface that all foods can fit into the meal plan, this color-coded system teaches people the idea of good vs bad foods as well as needing to “earn” red foods. This leads to that black and white thinking that results in shame and guilt.
Another concerning aspect is Noom’s lack of eating disorder screening. Per various reports, the initial survey does not ask about eating disorder history or relationship with food. This can be dangerous as Noom continues to advertise a non-diet approach but seems to ultimately be a diet.3 In truth, Noom goes against the anti-diet movement- its premise is based on calorie counting and limiting “red” foods.
Despite its popularity and clever marketing, Noom is simply a calorie-counting app with a chat feature and bite-size lessons on eating and weight loss. If you’re set on trying to lose weight—although I’d encourage you to rethink this, as most diets fail and do not. Necessarily promote improved health—there are more sustainable paths out there. Consult a registered dietitian and perhaps a licensed therapist and come up with a plan that is genuinely individualized to your body, your history, and your goals.
- Melton, M. (2022, January 6).Weight loss app noom quadruples revenue again, this time to $237 million. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/monicamelton/2020/01/14/weight-loss-app-noom-quadruples-revenue-again-this-time-to-237-million/?sh=3ad001a60f22
- Mehta, T., Smith, D. L., Muhammad, J., & Casazza, K. (2014). Impact of weight cycling on risk of morbidity and mortality.Obesity Reviews, 15(11), 870–881. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12222
- Eikey, E. V. (2021). Effects of diet and fitness apps on eating disorder behaviours: Qualitative study.BJPsych Open, 7(5). https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2021.1011
- Conason Psy.D., A. (n.d.).Is Noom a diet? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/202005/is-noom-diet