In the past couple of years, I’ve gained a chunk of weight that has made most of my wardrobe obsolete. I’m uncomfortable in my skin and have lost a lot of muscle tone, which is not something I want as I edge closer to 40. I’ve been working to change this, especially with my impending wedding fast approaching, and have been searching for ways to get fitter. So a few months ago, thanks to a ton of effective Facebook advertising, I decided to try the weight loss app “Noom”, which touts itself as Weight Watchers but updated for millennials (more or less).
Spoiler alert: I did not love the app, although I can see why people might find it useful. Below is is my honest review of it.
The basic set-up
Noom is at its core a calorie-tracking app that makes suggestions about what foods you should try to eat and adding in exercise over time. You start by taking a quiz about how much weight you want to lose and what kind of habits you have, after which they give you a “personalized plan” (which is the same plan as everyone else; the only difference is how long yours will go for and how much it will cost you). The overall goal is to change the way an individual thinks about food through small commitments based on nutritional coaching based on science. You have to commit to spending about 10 minutes a day reading articles and taking mini quizzes about those articles. You’re also supposed to log your meals and snacks and weigh in every day. Eventually you’re assigned a “goals coach” and a group of other users to talk to about your goals.
Noom is definitely optimistic. The writing can be funny at times and they certainly have their staffs trained to encourage people as much as possible. They reiterate that the goal of the app is lifestyle change, not necessarily just weight loss, and give you ideas of ways to measure your success that go beyond the number on the scale. Their fundamental tenet is “believe”: you just have to believe that this will work and give it a try.
Reading the articles and doing the quizzes took less than 10 minutes every day and was basically something you could read during your morning poo. Tracking your food intake wasn’t hard, either — they have a lot of foods in their database and suggestions on serving sizes. They provide recipes, exercise ideas, and more. They also provide research on aspects of health other than nutrition, like sleep, screen time, and hormones.
It’s Not Necessarily Restrictive
Noom says you can eat anything — as long as it fits in your calorie budget. Foods are assigned a color based on their caloric density and how often they recommend you eat them: green foods are low caloric density (meaning they contain more water, usually) like fruits and veggies and you’re encouraged to eat as many as you want; yellow foods have a medium caloric density like chicken or fish and you’re encouraged to eat less than green foods; red foods have a high caloric density like oil or sugar and you’re encouraged to eat them sparingly.
It’s Not Free
Noom offers a two-week free trial, after which they charge you to continue using the app and gain access to its more in-depth features, like a “goals coach” and a chat group to keep you accountable. It’s not cheap, and their costs seem to be based on how long they think it will take you to reach your “goal weight”. So, for instance, my fiance was looking at a charge of $45/month for three months, while I was looking at $30/month for four. They basically aim to charge you at least $125 for your total time with them, and it’s not transparent why the charges are different for whom. Also, they do not do refunds (unless you’re developing an eating disorder, apparently… see below.)
It’s Not Personalized
This was my biggest problem with the app: it’s one-size fits all. You can change things like your calorie goals or step goals or weight loss goals, but the information they give you is exactly the same as what anyone else is getting. As someone who has done a lot of research into nutrition and weight loss, most of the science was stuff I already knew. Furthermore, it was stuff I’d already tried and wasn’t working for me. Noom would not provide suggestions other than “eat more green foods and exercise more” for weight loss if that wasn’t working. I needed more personalized suggestions for my goals. When I asked my goals coach if I could quit because this obviously wasn’t working, she told me there was no way to get a refund, so I decided to keep going, even though I was extremely frustrated.
It’s Not NOT Triggering
They had no way of tracking if you were behaving in ways that might construe disordered eating, and there was definitely no part of the initial intake quiz to ensure that you weren’t someone who might have disordered eating problems. Weighing yourself every day and obsessively counting calories is extremely dangerous for many people, and Noom encourages this behavior. In fact, when I said I “felt like I was in the middle of an eating disorder” to my goals coach, she was suddenly able to get me a pro-rated refund. And that was the end of my Noom time.
It’s Not Well Made
The first few weeks are cute and airy, but as you keep going, the information they give you contains more and more typos. Also, the app itself isn’t necessarily completely functional, particularly the messaging app, which often lags. The glitches were annoying. For instance, my goals coach kept telling me she recommended I try to eat more “green foods” and said I should aim to have at least two servings a day. I asked why that would be a good idea, since I already eat three to four servings of fruits and vegetables per day. She said in looking at my log, she saw that every day this week, I’d only had one apple. I sent her screenshots of my actual log, which included at least three but often five or six different types of vegetables per day. Also, trying to find information you previously accessed is extremely difficult, even if you “save” an article to refer to it later, because it can be buried in six or seven pages of “next” scrolling.
The Final Takeaway
I found Noom to be reductive and frustrating for a variety of reasons. I think for someone who has no idea where to start with healthy eating or hasn’t done much research, Noom might be a great tool to start with, especially for a short period of time. But if you already have a basic understanding of nutrition, this program won’t motivate you anymore than what you already do. Also, Noom is definitely NOT OK for anyone who has even the slightest problem with disordered eating. They do not provide counseling or any sort of mental health monitoring, and a lot of their methods can easily become a problem for someone who may get obsessive about weight loss or calories.
In all, I would not recommend Noom to my friends or family for many reasons.