The Noom diet: What you need to know

Noom's diet program certainly sounds tempting. Whether you're looking to lose some weight or improve your health, the Noom app, which can be downloaded on both Android and iOS platforms, seems to make forming healthy habits convenient.

For those unfamiliar with the company: Noom got its start in 2008, according to a blog post on the company's website, and gradually evolved into the program it is today. They brought on a licensed clinical psychologist, added individual health coaching, and formed the "Healthy Weight" program.

The company's mission is simple and straightforward: "Help people live healthier lives through behavior change." Noom uses a psychology-based approach, with a goal of helping you change your mindset and learn more about yourself. A change in mindset can help you make new neural connections in the brain and therefore change habits. These connections can be powerful and engrained, so sticking with new habits can retrain your brain. But can you really do this on the Noom diet? Let's take a look at everything this plan has to offer, and what you can actually expect.

What does the Noom diet entail?

One of two programs Noom offers is the "Healthy Weight" program. This program seeks to empower participants to achieve and maintain healthy eating patterns and physical activity, as well as navigate social environments.

Noom's website explains that this is a 16-week program, which is then followed by a daily "post-core curriculum." Each day on the program, you will receive anywhere from one to three informative articles that educate you on healthy weight loss, nutrition, physical activity, and other aspects of health and wellbeing. Along with the informative articles, you will also be given up to a couple interactive challenges to assist with developing healthy habits and sticking with them. Weekend content will be completely different from your weekday and is relevant to your interests, behaviors, and demographic.

Beyond the articles, Noom also provides tools to log your weight, food, and exercise. You will be given virtual groups with other participants along with in-app messaging with your one-on-one coach.

Noom promotes behavior changes

As you may have noticed, Noom really drives the fact that they are a program based on "behavior change." The company is pushing against crash diets that promise short-term weight loss and looks to help people actually think about their lifestyle and form a healthy relationship with themselves and food long-term. "Quick fix diets are a thing of the past," Noom stated on its site, "and behavior change is the way to the future."

Adding behavior modifications can indeed be beneficial to for weight-loss success, according to UCLA health. Studies have backed up such claims. A 2014 report published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine wanted to find how successful weight loss was when behavior change was involved. The 10-year observational study found that more than 87 percent of individuals were maintaining at least a 10 percent weight loss after five and ten years. "Long-term weight-loss maintenance is possible and requires sustained behavior change," the study concluded.

Noom's health coaches are real, but they can be inconsistent

When you sign up for Noom, you are assigned a virtual one-on-one and group coach. The coaching is solely message-based, which can make it easy to believe a robot is responding to your questions and concerns. The truth is, though, these coaches are real. Noom revealed that they are individuals who come from various backgrounds including exercise, psychology, and nutrition. Although you can't physically see or talk to them, they are there to establish a relationship with you and identify your strengths, triggers, and different ways you may be able to accomplish your goals.

Having a coach in your pocket seems beneficial, but Noom's coaches can be inconsistent. Registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty explained in an article for NBC's Better by Today, writing, "Based on reviews, the health coaching is really over billed." She went on to add, "Among the common complaints: people felt like they were talking to a chat bot instead of a person; the coaching support is superficial; coaches aren't available 24/7 and often leave you hanging." When she personally used the app, she found responses were slow and vague.

Noom uses the Harris-Benedict equation to determine calorie allotments

In the world of health, there many different formulas that have been formed in order to estimate how many calories each individual needs. Some common ones include the Mifflin St-Jeor equation and the Harris-Benedict equation. Noom uses the latter equation and sets up your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by pulling information from your profile including gender, age, height, and starting weight. That information is then plugged into the equation and gives you your daily calories. This number does not include any exercise and is a "sedentary" amount. When logging exercise in the Noom app, you will get half the calories that you burned from your exercise back into your daily calorie budget.

A 2012 study published in Clinical Nutrition Research wanted to determine how reliable multiple equations were when it came to determining daily calorie needs for individuals. The results demonstrated that the Harris-Benedict equation was the most accurate. However, its prediction accuracy was only 35.7 percent.

You may not be given enough calories on the Noom diet

"The minimum calorie budget allowed for females is 1,200 and males 1,400," Noom explained on its site. However, 1,200 calories is how much a sedentary 4-year-old should be eating, not an adult woman. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that adult women should be eating around 1,600 to 2,400 calories each day and men fall in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 calories. The low end of these ranges is for individuals who are sedentary, and the high end is for people who stay active.

Eating too few calories may come with side-effects. Some of the most common include feeling hungry, fatigued, or lightheaded. Lisa Moskovitz, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of The NY Nutrition Group, told Livestrong, "Your blood sugars may be too low and thus causing you to feel weak or woozy." Also, if you're hungry often, that's a sign that you're probably not eating enough. "Even if you think you ate enough based on specific portions, that doesn't mean your body agrees," said Moskovitz.

Noom has a traffic light color system that is based on calorie density

When you sign up for Noom and start logging your foods, you'll notice that each food you log is assigned a color. These colors include green, yellow, and red and are based on calorie density, according to Noom's website. "Calorie density is a measure of the calorie content of food relative to its weight or volume. ... Choosing foods with a low calorie density can help with weight loss. It makes you automatically eat fewer calories while still eating large and filling portions," Healthline explained. 

"Green" foods (vegetables, whole grains, non-fat dairy, et cetera) are the least calorie dense, meaning you can eat larger portions with little calories, and typically contain lots of healthy nutrients. Noom recommends green foods make up the "bulk" of your diet. "Yellow" foods have more calories or less healthy nutrients per serving than green foods and should be eaten in moderation. Yellow food examples include lean meats and starches. "Red" foods consist of desserts and red meat — foods that are the most calorie dense.

A 2016 meta-analysis published in Nutrients found that individuals who ate low calorie-dense foods had a larger reduction in body weight. In conclusion, focusing on calorie density of foods can help to manage weight.

The Noom diet can be beneficial for short-term weight loss

Research has been conducted on the effectiveness of Noom for weight loss, but all studies have focused on the short term. One study in particular, published in 2017 in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, examined whether weight reduction was achievable using Noom's smartphone app.

A sample of 7,633 overweight men and women were used to test whether the app would present significant weight loss after using it for three months. The results found that participants lost an average of 1.92 BMI points, and every 10 percent increase in adherence to the program showed a decrease of 2.59 BMI points.

Additionally, a smaller study published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders followed participants for one year. The 104 participants using Noom for weight loss showed a weight loss of 7.5 percent after 15 weeks on the program. After 52 weeks, they had maintained 5.2 percent of weight loss. 

Research shows that most diets don't result in long-term weight loss

The problem with diets in general is that they don't tend to lead to lasting results. This means many who've lost weight while dieting will end up gaining the weight back. One systematic review published in The BMJ in 2020 wanted to determine the effectiveness of popular diet programs when it came to weight loss. After reviewing 121 different studies, the journal found that weight loss did occur initially but diminished after 12 months.

Long-term maintenance of weight loss is a challenge. In multiple long-term weight loss studies, more than 50 percent of the lost weight through dieting was regained within two years and 80 percent of lost weight was put back on after five years, a 2019 analysis published in Medical Clinics of North America explained.

The reasons behind, according to the report, are because highly processed foods are cheaper, jobs have become more sedentary, and fewer people are preparing food at home and choosing to dine in restaurants. Not only that, but there is an outdated guidance to physicians that small changes in diet will result in weight loss (for example, cutting out soda). Then if the patient fails, it stigmatizes them as unmotivated or "lacking in willpower."

Noom claims to be anti-diet, but the program is most certainly a diet

If you've ever seen or listened to a Noom advertisement, you may have noticed they pride themselves as being "anti-diet." However, clinical psychologist Alexis Conason explained in article for Psychology Today that Noom is indeed a diet. Part of the reason comes from the "traffic light" food tracking system. "When you go over your allotment of calories in a category, you get a warning sign," explained Conason. "Yes, technically no foods are forbidden, but it definitely creates a hierarchy where some foods are encouraged and some are discouraged."

"This is diet advice as old as time and it doesn't work. If it did, you would still be maintaining the weight that you lost on Weight Watchers back in 1997 and Noom wouldn't be a thing," Conason put it bluntly. Although Noom differs from some other diets with its behavior change model, Conason doesn't believe this bumps it out of diet territory, nor does she believe it even works.

"Behavior change strategies are good for just that; behavior change. And body size is not a behavior," she explained. "So I don't see how this coaching aspect makes the program any less of a diet — or any less harmful for that matter."

The Noom diet is not suitable for individuals with chronic conditions

If you've been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or have any other chronic conditions, you are better off spending your money on proper nutrition counseling. Since Noom's coaching staff comes from various backgrounds, they are not legally able to provide you with advice regarding your condition.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that certain states have licensing laws to help consumers identify who is qualified and able to provide specific services, known as the professions "scope of practice". This help protects individuals from unsafe or inaccurate nutrition counseling that could lead to dangerous health outcomes.

If you're seeking weight loss and management of your chronic condition, definitely seek out a registered dietitian. Cynthia Sass, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and registered dietitian told Eat This, Not That, "If someone has any kind of special dietary needs, such as food sensitivities or allergies, or chronic conditions like IBS, I think it's best to work directly with a registered dietitian nutritionist, as a dietitian's training includes both clinical nutrition and weight loss."

Noom has shown promise for individuals affected by disordered eating

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that impact both men and women. When a person is affected by disordered eating, they may be constantly analyzing the food they are eating, Mental Health America explained. Recovery is possible but tends to require a team of professionals including therapists, dietitians, psychiatrists, or primary care physicians.

Interestingly, a 2018 study found that Noom combined with cognitive-behavior therapy might also be beneficial for individuals with binge eating disorders or bulimia nervosa. The men and women participants who received cognitive-behavioral therapy and Noom for eight sessions had greater meal and snack adherence, which had a positive effect on bulimic episodes.

Now, this doesn't mean Noom shouldn't be the go-to solution if you're looking to be treated for an eating disorder. More research needs to be done, and your coaches don't have the "scope of practice" to help treat you for this serious condition.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (text NEDA to 741741).

Noom doesn't have the best Better Business Bureau rating

As of this writing, over 1,700 customers have reviewed Noom, Inc. on the Better Business Bureau's site and, well, the rating isn't so hot with 2.96 stars. First things first, what is the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB is a private, nonprofit organization that has been around for over a century and has helped consumers find businesses, brands, and charities they can trust. Individuals who have troubles with a company can file a complaint with the BBB for help resolving a dispute, which typically involves a monetary claim.

Most of the negative reviews about Noom are regarding payments, with many people mentioning they have been charged even before their 14-day trial was complete and others stating that multiple payments were removed from their bank account due to "add-on services." As of December 2020, Noom has a D rating from the BBB. You can check out the reviews and establish your opinion on whether or not you'd like to give this program a whirl.

Noom has responded to some of the complaints it has recieved

Why sign up for a program if it's difficult to get out of it? That's the problem many individuals had after signing up for Noom. The CEO and co-founder of Noom, Saeju Jeong, noticed these complaints and released a statement on Noom's website. He started off by stating, "We love our customers and you hold us accountable to ensure we deliver on our promise of helping you build healthy habits."

From there, the CEO discussed the attention around the cancellation and refund experience. "I want to state clearly: we take feedback from each and every customer seriously, and we are committed to continually improving," wrote Jeong. "To start, we're significantly expanding the size of our customer support team and expanding the number of support channels where customers can reach us."

This statement was published in August 2020, but complaints have continued. Jeong highlighted in his message that the 2,300 and more health coaches can help make the cancellation process easier, or you can reach out to their support team at via email.

This is how much the Noom diet will cost you

How much will the Noom program set you back? According to the company's website, there's a few answers to this question. If you're looking for a month-to-month plan, you'll be paying $59. If you want to commit to three months, it will cost $129, whereas a six-month plan bumps up the price to $159. An annual plan is the best deal at $199. It's important to note that all of these subscriptions are auto-recurring plans, meaning if you don't cancel, the plan will renew and you'll be charged again.

Be sure to keep a record of when your subscription is up and, if you plan to cancel, ask to cancel ahead of time. Cancelling early still allows you to use the Noom program up until your cancellation date, but will prevent the hassle of some of those cancellation challenges already mentioned.

If the cost of the program is making too big of a dent in your budget, cancelling may potentially bring about a better offer, according to Reddit users, allowing you to stick around at a cheaper cost. You can also rack up $20 in Amazon credit for friends or family that you refer and stay with the program past the trial.