Just another app, or a game-changer for weight loss? Here, the pros and cons of this trendy new weight-loss plan.
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Diet fads come and go quicker than a cup of froyo on a scorching summer day. Yet some eating plans, such as the Mediterranean and DASH diets, tend to stick around and top "best diet lists" despite their lack of trendiness.
While 2018 was clearly the year of keto (long-term popularity and results TBD), 2019 is shaping up to be the year of the Noom diet. More than 47 million people worldwide have used the program, deemed by some as "Weight Watchers for millennials," and it topped Google's "Top Trending Diets" #YearInSearch for 2018.
Here's what you need to know before noshing via Noom from dietitians and those close to the creators.
What exactly is the Noom diet?
"Noom exists entirely as an app, and its main focus is creating behavioral change surrounding food and exercise choices," says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., the owner of Essential Nutrition For You. "You start by taking a short online quiz during which you'll answer questions about your weight-loss goals and preferred coaching style."
It's similar to the points logged in Weight Watchers (which is now called WW, BTW), where no foods are off limits. Noom focuses on moderation with a traffic light–inspired regimen.
"Each of our users has a personalized calorie budget based on age, sex, activity level, and more," says Adam Fawer, the chief operating officer of Noom.
Foods with low-calorie densities (you may recognize this term from the volumetrics diet) are "green," and are supposed to make up most of your diet, while "yellow" foods are to be eaten moderately, and "red" items are to be consumed sparingly. Examples for each category include:
- Egg whites
- Nonfat yogurt
- Skim milk and nut milk
- Sweet potatoes
- Grilled poultry and seafood
- Low-fat cheeses
- French fries
- Full-fat cheeses
- Nut butter
"This color-coding takes both the quantity and quality of food into account," says Fawer. "Even 'red' foods are expected to make up a fair allotment (about 25 percent) of your daily caloric intake."
This all-things-allowed strategy permits Noom-ers to balance foods they enjoy with the nutrition they need and stay full while meeting weight-loss goals, according to Fawer. Each day, you're asked to log your meals and exercise for a certain amount of time. The app also provides bite-size informational blurbs about nutrition, fitness, health, and wellness.
Related: The Best Free Weight-Loss Apps
What makes Noom different?
"You can't outrun a bad diet," was the driving principle behind the project, explains Fawer. It was created by two entrepreneurs, Saeju Jeong (a serial entrepreneur from Korea) and Artem Petakov (a programmer from Ukraine who's obsessed with AI and behavior change), he says. While Petakov and Jeong felt that several existing fitness apps could be successful in helping people lose weight, they believed the root problem was much deeper—psychological.
"One of the key differences between WW and Noom is that with Noom, every user is matched with a personal health coach who's available to answer questions, provide healthful tips, and to keep you on track. You also have access to a group chat," says Batayneh. "And because motivation is a key component of behavior change, you're asked to rate your motivation on a scale of one to five."
During the process, you're set up with a personal coach who has training in the health or wellness field to act as your Noom "concierge." Coaches help users "explore what they eat and why they make the choices they do," says Fawer. "Then, we work together and consider their current habits, taste preferences, dietary restrictions, and psychological factors, to create a plan to make small, positive changes every day and develop healthier habits long term."
"A few of my clients have seen the ads and their biggest concern was that it wasn't going to be customizable enough to their lifestyle and food preferences," says Batayneh. "Many said it reminded them of WW. This also turned them off, since several have not been successful on Weight Watchers in terms of losing weight, reaching their goal, and keeping it off."
Subscribers can purchase one of two Noom memberships: the Healthy Weight Program or the Diabetes Prevention Program. The monthly rate is $59 or you can sign up annually for $199 right now (regularly $750).
Who are Noom's coaches?
Noom Coaches go through "Noomiversity," a training program that uses evidence-based practices to prepare them to consult with clients. To qualify for Noomiversity, coaches must have an associate's degree or higher, have a health certification (such as a nurse, paramedic, or pharmacy technician) or have 2,000 or more hours on the job as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, or yoga instructor.
Initial coach training is one week long and includes information on behavior change techniques, the Noom curriculum, and coaching protocols.
"Beyond this first week of structured training, coaches participate in ongoing professional development opportunities, including twice-weekly clinical supervisions, lunch-and-learn topic lectures, user transcript reviews with clinical supervisors, and a peer-to-peer mentorship program," says Fawer.
The goal of Noomiversity is to set coaches up to understand users' current situation, their ideal goals, and their long-term dreams. Beyond base-level coaching, the onus is on each Noom user to schedule any additional coaching sessions for themselves.
"Unless you reach out first to ask for help, you typically do not hear from your coach in between those sessions," says Fawer. Nonetheless, no matter the cadence, "Noom users develop a meaningful one-on-one relationship with their coach, who schedules the basic sessions, checks in to praise them and keep them accountable, and takes a personal interest in their progress."
Should you try the Noom diet?
"Participants in our program learn how to outsmart their own impulses, which means they're learning skills that will stick with them after they stop using Noom," says Fawer.
Noom is helpful if you want support but don't want to attend in-person meetings. And it might work pretty well for weight loss: A 2016 Scientific Reports study found that the Noom app led to weight loss in 78 percent of users across a nine-month period. However, like any new-to-the-scene diet, more scientific studies are needed before we can fully "weigh in" on the long-term results, says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. Plus, there's nothing like in-person guidance.
"As with anything that's relatively new, it'll attract attention—but Noom users need to be motivated and willing to chart intake and activities and read related materials on their own," she says. "I'm personally not a fan of the 'good' and 'bad' finger-pointing at foods. I'm on board with the long list of fruits and veggies on their green list, but I'd hate to downplay the quality of nutrient-rich foods like nuts and seeds because they have more calories than other foods."
Regardless, any diet that takes mind and body into consideration is worth a closer look, says Taub-Dix. "The best diet is one that you can live with," she says. "Not just for a few weeks so that you can fit into a certain outfit, but for a lifetime so you can enjoy the body you're spending all of your time in!"