Weight-loss app Noom is a diet, which might be why its pandemic glow is fading

Amanda Gerla

“Stop dieting: Get life-long results.”

That claim from the Noom app — that it isn’t a diet, yet can achieve long-lasting weight loss — surely encouraged some of its 45 million downloads in the first five years since it was launched. The app saw its popularity soar during the pandemic as house-bound Americans who were rapidly gaining weight were attracted to Noom’s virtual coaching and other Covid-safe approaches to shedding pounds. But despite this enthusiasm, the company laid off 495 health and wellness coaches this spring, according to Business Insider.  

None of this information is new, and much of it can be accessed online from several reputable sources — for free.

A company spokesman told Insider that “parting ways” with some of the coaching staff was “a decision we did not make lightly” but that “Noom is continually working to meet the evolving needs of our users while ensuring the health of our organization as it continues to grow.”

However the company wants to present it, I think this staff reduction is a sign that the public is increasingly on to it. I have not found evidence that Noom does better than anything else at keeping weight off long-term, which is the downfall of most diets. And yes, Noom is indeed a diet.

Trying to lose weight becomes a cycle because most people, even if they succeed in the short term, gain it back. A meta-analysis of 29 different studies done at the University of Kentucky in 2001 found that more than half of the weight lost in structured weight-loss programs was regained in just two years. By five years, more than 80 percent was regained. Even trying different types of diets didn’t help. The weight loss differences between individual diets are small, and it is adherence over the long term that makes the difference. But that’s hard to do.

Given that, I was surprised to see Noom claim “life-long results.” So I took a deeper dive into the research on the app. Though the Noom app has been around since 2016, only two of the 36 articles listed on its site examine weight loss beyond one year, and both of these track results for less than two years. 

Although they do demonstrate weight reduction, one study didn’t include people who stopped using the app, and the other study only included people who completed a certain number of sessions. The thousands of people who were excluded could have been the ones most likely not to have lost weight. (It should also be noted that both studies and several others reporting positive results using Noom were funded by the company itself.)

The largest study using the Noom app not funded by Noom found that 77 percent of app users reported weight loss after using it for six months or more. But this was not a long-term study by any means. The median time of app use reported was less than nine months. Most importantly, the follow-up period was less than one year. When we look at what happens over the longer term with dietary modification and exercise, a meta-analysis from 2007 shows us that people tend to lose the most weight at six months, this then plateaus over the next six months, and longer term, by year three and four, half of that first-year weight loss is usually gained back. So, doing a weight loss study with less than a year of follow-up is not helpful, and certainly doesn’t support the “life-long results” claim. 

What all of these studies show — those Noom funded and those it didn’t — is that the longer and more frequently users engage with the app, the more weight they will lose over time. But this is true for other apps where diets are tracked digitally as well.

The way the Noom diet works — not unlike many other weight-loss apps — is to set a calorie goal that you track daily and then modify what you eat to meet this goal. This meets the definition of dieting as defined by Encyclopedia Britannica

Although there are no specific restrictions on what to eat, the color-coding system for different foods guides you to eat a higher proportion of green foods (lower calories relative to volume)  compared to red foods (higher calories relative to volume). The problem is that the way these foods are categorized is sometimes flawed. So here’s the truth: As author Meredith Dietz writes, “Noom is a feel good psychology-coated calorie counter.”

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To be fair, the psychology piece is important. Noom does stand apart from other apps in that it provides more rigorous lessons based on cognitive behavioral theory. In what is termed The Noom Weight Program, users are guided through a 16-week curriculum that includes mini-tutorials on a wide range of topics related to overeating, such as sleep and stress. This is to help the user identify unhealthy habits and build sustainable behaviors. However, none of this information is new, and much of it can be accessed online from several reputable sources — for free.

Noom also differs from other apps by providing health and wellness coaches. But they aren’t required to be registered dietitians and cannot guide you as well. The coaches (many of whom were just laid off) instead go through Noomiversity — a health certification program where they receive 75 hours of training and then additional coaching experience. Finally, Noom stands out in terms of cost. It is not cheap. Unless you sign up for an annual plan, or have a time-limited discount code, the cost is $60 per month. That’s quite expensive when compared to other apps, including premium versions of myfitnesspal and Lose it!. At that price, you’d be better off hiring a registered dietitian for a personalized program and using one of the free apps they recommend. 

The plug to “Stop dieting: Get life-long results” is a good reminder that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Losing weight is challenging. Unfortunately, Noom has not yet proven it can make this challenge any easier over the long run.



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