- Noom is a weight-loss app that uses a psychology-based approach to change your eating habits.
- One freelancer tried Noom for over 8 months to shed some pounds and prevent pandemic weight gain.
- She lost seven pounds and now implements the healthy habits she learned every day.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Like many people, I’ve been losing and gaining the same 10 pounds every few years.
In my latest attempt to lose weight, I turned to the Noom app. The TV and Facebook ads feature statements like, “Just 10 minutes a day keeps the weight off” and testimonials from people who claim they worked out every day for a year and only lost 10 pounds, but with Noom they lost 30 pounds.
Noom promises to be life-changing, easy to follow, and different from other weight-loss plans. For instance, on Noom, no food is forbidden, and its ads reinforce this concept by showing a woman grabbing a brownie while the scale flips to a lower and lower weight.
Although it seems like Noom is a newcomer to the weight-loss game, the company was founded more than a decade ago, in 2008, by two best friends, Saeju Jeong and Artem Petakov.
Last year, the company reported it had over 45 million users. A 2016 study published in Scientific Reports found that about 78% of the 35,921 participants who used Noom lost weight over an 18-month period, and a 2017 study published in the Journal of Health Communications found that Noom appeared to help people lose weight over a six-month period.
In 2019, Noom raised $58 million, with investors including Sequoia Capital, Groupe Arnault’s tech arm Aglaé Ventures, Jan Koum, cofounder of WhatsApp, Tony Xu, cofounder of DoorDash, Josh Kushner, cofounder of Oscar Health, Scooter Braun, founder of SB Projects, and Samsung Ventures. It’s now the largest venture-backed digital weight-loss startup, having raised $115 million to date, a company spokesperson told Insider’s Patricia Kelly Yeo in April.
I signed up in October 2019. It cost about $150 to test out for eight months.
After completing a short quiz about my weight, height, desired weight-loss goal, and daily eating and exercise habits, I received my “customized” plan with a budget of 1,200 calories a day – a standard recommendation for women trying to shed a few pounds.
Noom broke my 1,200-calorie budget into three categories:
- Green – essentially vegetables and fruits, to be eaten generously
- Yellow – multigrain bread, lean proteins, beans, and brown rice, to be eaten in moderation
- Red – the brownie in the ad, cheeses, pizza, anything fried, all to be eaten sparingly
Essentially, the food budget encourages participants to eat more protein, fruits, and vegetables and fewer fats and processed foods.
Other key daily aspects of Noom included recording your weight, tracking your food intake and exercise, drinking at least nine cups of water, and spending 10 minutes completing interactive readings and quizzes about food and cravings on the app.
One of your first assignments is to declare your “Super Goal” and “Ultimate Why” for losing weight, then envision how your life will be different once you reach your goal.
I imagine that this is a powerful exercise for someone who has more than 10 pounds to lose.
In fact, I’ve noticed that the people who have the most weight to lose have the most success with Noom. But it felt strange to me because, while 10 pounds would help me feel more confident, it probably wouldn’t be life-changing for me.
I’m in a Facebook group for Noom users that I joined in January 2020, and the transformational photos people post constantly amaze me. It’s not uncommon to see photos of people who have lost 100 pounds or more. Most people post about their successes and their challenges, particularly when they find the scale is creeping up. But I was more of a lurker than a poster or commenter.
I started Noom before the COVID-19 pandemic, when I thought we’d be going to two weddings and my daughter’s high school graduation in 2020, so losing 10 pounds for these events were my Big Why. Then the pandemic hit and my Big Why became my desire to not gain 20 pounds during lockdown.
Initially, I found the daily readings and quizzes really insightful.
Everything is written in easy-to-digest blurbs and based on science and psychology. There are daily quizzes to help you retain the information and opportunities to read and reflect, and then add your own thoughts and experiences.
For instance, a lesson on stress eating ends with two questions: “What is your stressor?” and “What is your stress response?”
The app invites you to list all the possible ways in which you can prevent yourself from stress eating. My list of ways to intervene included taking deep breaths, going for a quick walk, drinking a big glass of water, and calling or texting a friend. I can honestly say that none of these methods have worked for me.
There’s also a lot of emphasis on mindful eating, including how to assess how hungry you are before you start eating, ways to slow down your meal, and how to tell when you’re full.
Noom also arms you with ways to handle social situations and family members who expect you to clean your plate.
For instance, the app explains why we tend to eat more when we’re out to dinner with friends and why we might arrive at the restaurant determined to order a salad but then change to a burger when everyone else at the table orders one.
And, if your mother, grandmother, or aunt insists that you eat the special meal they made for your visit, Noom has a great list of responses like “I can’t make it work in my plan,” and “Me and [insert food] aren’t on speaking terms.”
Despite what the ads say, Noom also emphasizes exercise.
There’s an initial goal to walk 3,000 steps a day, and after a week you’re encouraged to walk 10,000 steps each day and to add yoga, weights, and other workouts.
Noom pairs every participant with a goal specialist, who checks in with you every week. Each week you set a new goal – such as eating a new vegetable with every meal or exercising four times a week – and then the goal specialist checks to see if you succeeded.
If you didn’t, the specialist asks you open-ended questions that are similar to the reflections in the readings about what you could have done more of or differently.
Those open-ended questions definitely got on my nerves. Like most dieters, I know what I need to do – I just don’t always follow through.
It’s true that no food is off limits. However, losing weight wasn’t as easy as Noom promised.
One of the best lessons I learned is I can eat anything I want in moderation, and just because I gave into my craving for a bag of potato chips at lunch doesn’t mean I should give myself permission to eat an entire pizza and then a pint of ice cream for dinner.
I was on Noom for eight months and lost seven pounds. About three months after I went off Noom, I gained a few pounds back, so I decided to go back on Noom, hoping to lose six more pounds (the three pounds I’d regained and the three pounds I didn’t lose the first time) but nothing happened the second time I joined – I didn’t gain weight and I didn’t lose any either.
I asked health and fitness coach and weight-loss specialist Candice McDaniel why I was struggling to lose six pounds when I see photos of people who have dropped 100 pounds.
“Losing 10 pounds on a diet plan versus losing 50 to 100 pounds is harder because of how close you already are to a healthy weight,” she said. “When you have 50 to 100 pounds to lose, you don’t need to make very many changes to your diet to start seeing results. Typically at that weight, you can try following a diet plan, and even if you aren’t perfect, you’ll start seeing progress quickly. But people who only have about 10 pounds to lose have to be a lot more vigilant and follow the program very closely to see results.”
While I no longer use Noom, I’ve managed to keep off four of the seven pounds I lost and retained many of the healthy habits I learned.
For instance, I have a fruit or vegetables with every meal, I don’t eat when I’m bored (though I do still eat when I’m stressed), I exercise every day, I write down everything I eat each day, and if I slip up and have a bag of chips or a slice of cake at lunch, I don’t go whole hog in the evening. Now if I could only lose five more pounds …