I was excited to try out Noom, a healthy-habit/weight loss app that’s been getting a ton of press recently. I dutifully entered all of my health info and stats as prompted and waited for my personalized recommendations. Imagine my surprise when Noom gleefully announced that I could lose 15 lbs by March! Surprised because, if I did lose 15 lbs, I’d weigh 100 lbs (I’m 5’6”), which would be unhealthy and darn near starvation.
Noom. It’s an expensive app ($45/month at time of posting) designed by behavioral psychologists to help you lose weight. It’s targeted to millenials, because as stated by the app itself, millennials struggle to perform difficult tasks without hand-holding and cheerleading along the way.
Getting and staying healthy – however one defines it for him/herself – is a priority for many people. This is especially true in the US, where we have a lot of of food but sometimes limited exercise opportunities. Noom, an online platform, was created to help individuals form healthier habits to lose weight, get fit, or maintain these. No doubt, this is a noble goal for the company and its customers. That being said, I feel Noom’s motivations are not noble and its algorithms are simply dumb. I can summarize my reasons in three points.
- Noom seems superficial (in the way it communicates with me and in nutritional science)
- It’s algorithms need to be improved.
- It’s too expensive for what you get.
Noom is condescending and superficial, it’s algorithms are weak, and it’s too expensive.
First, Noom feels patronizing and impersonal.
The tagline is “Stop dieting. Get life-long results.” But wait, people use noom to lose weight, which involves burning more calories than you consume. So, in one way or another, there will calorie restriction (ie, a diet).
- Patronizing: Noom advertises itself as “not a weight loss but a healthy habit” app. Yet, the only service it provides (and advertises) is weight loss assistance. Also, it encourages me to “trick myself” into healthier habits. Um, I’d rather be honest with myself and form new habits intentionally.
- Impersonal: I get cheerleading messages and reminders from a coach, but the notes are super generic. Any health coach that actually looked at my profile would respond differently.
Second, Noom’s algorithms should be smarter.
Noom doesn’t serve individuals who do not want to or should not lose weight.
- For example, Noom recommends that I limit my caloric intake to 1200 calories per day (for an active, 42-year-old woman who weighs 115 lb and is 5’6”), so that I can lose 15 lb in the next eight weeks. There are so many things wrong with this, that I can’t list them all, but here’s the top two:
- Noom is the perfect tool for triggering and encouraging eating disorders (ED) like anorexia. I can just put in how much I want to lose – say, 25 lb – and Noom will cheer me on, all the way down to 90 lb. Not healthy.
- 1200 calories is at least 10% lower than my resting metabolic rate (RMR). The RMR is the number of calories required for my body to simply exist and not break down its own tissue. Add in any activity (like sitting here on my computer), and my daily caloric requirements go up. So, no matter what, the program recommended by Noom guarantees that my body will be in a starvation state. (To be honest, this is what a diet is meant to me – energy restriction; however, IMO, every conscious human adult needs more than 1200 calories/day).
Noom’s color-coded food categories are misleading because they are primarily based on caloric density.
- For example: whole milk Greek yogurt is a “red” food, meaning that it has “the least healthy nutrients and should be eaten less frequently and in smaller portions.” At the same time, nonfat flavored yogurt is a “green” food, meaning that it “contains the highest concentration of healthy nutrients and should make up the bulk of your diet.” Problems with these classifications:
- A 4-oz serving of whole milk Greek yogurt (WGY) contains no added sugar, while 4 oz of nonfat flavored yogurt (NFY) contains 12 g (or about 3 teaspoons) of added sugar.
- WGY contains double (or more, depending on brand) the protein of NFY.
- WGY contains lots of healthy, satiating natural fats, which have been mostly removed from NFY.
- Because WGY has less sugar, more protein, and more fat; I think that it is a much healthier and more satisfying choice.
Third, Noom costs too much for what you get.
Noom is very expensive compared to other, superior tools. At $45/month, you can explore a lot of other (free or low-cost) options:
- The most obvious example is their food logging platform, which is less intuitive and has a smaller database of foods than free food loggers. I estimate that it takes me 30% longer to log food into Noom than MyFitnessPal. This is due to the wonky serving size suggestions and non-intuitive navigation of the Noom food logger. Other examples include: step-tracking in Noom is super inaccurate, Noom doesn’t sync with my Garmin watch.
- $45/month (that’s $540 a year) will buy a lot of really great wellness books or subscriptions.
- This may seem incredibly obvious, but getting support and accountability from friends and family is FREE and usually much more fulfilling in the long term. I’d much rather have an accountability/workout partner that was a trusted girlfriend than some maybe real person/avatar.
Long story short: Noom has its place for people with disposable income who know nothing about wellness and would like very consistent, completely anonymous (meaning, no support from the people they know in real life) help in their weight loss journey.
If you have a reason to get healthy and/or lose weight, I encourage you to explore options other than Noom. There are better ways to get a more interpersonal and individualized approach. For example, you can join a running group or read a wellness book with your spouse or a friend.
In Summary …
Despite the advertising, Noom strikes me as a one-size-fits-all approach to goal setting and behavior change. At best, it’s a relatively expensive yet generic approach to getting people into healthier habits. At worst, it’s a dangerous platform that promotes weight loss (and happily charges for the service) for everyone, even those individuals who should not be dieting.
Have you tried Noom, or have friends who have? I’d love to hear your experience, even if you totally disagree with my assessment!