Photo Courtesy of Lauren Bedosky
Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD
Name: Lauren Bedosky
Goal: Lose 10 to 15 pounds
Like many people, I could stand to lose a few pounds. Years at a stressful desk job — plus a serious sweet tooth — led to some unhealthy eating habits. I mostly survived on sugary granola bars, and dessert was a daily need, causing my pants to fit too snugly and my energy levels to dip. I wanted to feel like myself again, but I wasn’t interested in trying a juice fast or otherwise restrictive diet to get there. (I like carbs, okay?) Instead, I wanted to start practicing what I preach in so many of the stories I’ve written for Everyday Health and other health publications like it. My ultimate goal: to develop mindful, nutritious eating habits, thereby shaving off the extra, unwanted pounds — and keeping them off. So when I had the opportunity to try Noom, a healthy-eating and weight loss app, jumping on board was a no-brainer.
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What Is Noom?
Noom helps users create behavioral changes that lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss, according to Noom.com. And research shows it can work: According to a study published online in September 2016 in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, the 36 of 43 overweight or obese adults who completed six months of the program lost an average of 15.45 pounds (lbs), or 7.5 percent of their body weight. Losing only 5 percent of your total body weight offers health benefits including improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When you sign up for Noom, you pay the $44.99 monthly subscription fee then are quickly connected with a live coach (called a “goal specialist”) who’s trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of psychological treatment that focuses on changing unhelpful thinking patterns that prompt unhealthy behaviors, according to the American Psychological Association. Your coach gets in touch with you through the app 1 or 2 times per week to help you set goals, identify potential barriers to reaching your goals, and brainstorm solutions. If you ask them a question, response times vary (in my case, sometimes it would be the same day; other times it would take a week to hear back). You also have unlimited access to a support group filled with other Noom users and led by a Noom group coach, though your group coach is only in contact with you during standard business hours Monday through Friday.
In addition, users receive new, daily lessons. Some are quick reads and cover topics such as portion sizes, food-shopping tips, strategies to curb cravings, and tricks for restoring motivation when it wanes. Meanwhile, other lessons ask you to fill in the blanks or answer multiple-choice questions, all aimed at helping you identify habits and goals, recognize false and unhealthy thoughts, and create healthy weight loss strategies.
You’ll often be asked to complete short quizzes to help you retain the information in the lesson plans. After all, research has shown that testing your knowledge helps you remember information better than additional study opportunities.
The app also includes a food log feature that analyzes your food choices, a pedometer to track your daily steps, a spot to log your daily weight, a recipe library, and the option to track exercise, blood pressure, and blood glucose.
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Here’s What Happened When I Tried It
I committed to using the Noom app for a couple of weeks. I downloaded the app and filled in my info: height, weight, age, sex, goal weight, type of motivation I needed (gentle, tough love, or somewhere in between), and desired weight loss pace (slow, moderate, or fast). I aimed to jump-start a weight loss of 10 to 15 lbs, requested gentle nudges from my goal specialist, and opted to lose it at a moderate pace. According to Noom’s estimate, I would reach my goal weight in February.
Before jumping in, Noom had me identify my big picture goal, or my underlying reason for wanting to lose 10 to 15 pounds. This was supposed to be the thing that inspired and excited me to keep going even when things got tough. I came up with this: My biggest reason for wanting to lose weight was to feel confident in my own skin and to cultivate habits to grow fit and healthy. I kept returning to this underlying goal throughout the two weeks I tried Noom, especially when I felt my motivation waning.
Every day I opened up the app, and after logging my weight, I worked through the lessons and quizzes. They were pretty quick and easy to complete, and though some of the information wasn’t new to me, I found the reminders helpful. For example, the app reminded me of the ways our thoughts can distort facts and ultimately cause us to develop unhealthy behaviors. Think of a common thought like “If I eat that cupcake in the break room, my entire day will be ruined.” This isn’t meant to inspire food shame. Rather, as Noom notes, this is an example of a thought distortion, or a lie we tell ourselves. After all, eating a cupcake won’t actually ruin your day. But if you believe it will, you may be tempted to stop your healthy habits the moment that cupcake passes your lips.
The food log feature was also helpful. Although the nutrition information wasn’t always accurate (the database indicated my favorite Kind bar was 150 calories when the label clearly reads 200), it encouraged me to reach for healthier foods. I loved getting a virtual high five from the app anytime I logged fruits and vegetables! And opening up the app every time I ate made me more aware of the times when I was eating out of boredom or stress.
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3 Things I Liked About Noom
I found Noom to be unlike any other weight loss app I’d tried. Three things in particular impressed me.
1. The Human Touch Keeps You Motivated
Even if I didn’t correspond with my goal specialist or group every day, knowing there were live people out there who were invested in my weight loss goal motivated me to make better food and movement choices. A review published in August 2016 in Patient Preference and Adherence even found that people who took part in weight loss interventions that included a social support component had higher levels of adherence than those who didn’t have social support.
2. You Set the Tone (and Pace)
When you sign up for Noom, you’re given a brief questionnaire. You tell the app what kind of support you need (tough love, gentle nudges, a cheerleader), how much weight you’d like to lose, and how quickly you’d like to lose that weight (turtle pace, rabbit pace, leopard pace, or somewhere in between). The app then customizes your experience to ensure that you get the type of support that best suits your personality.
3. Daily Tips and Quizzes Keep You Engaged
Every day you receive a new batch of short, engaging articles and quizzes. The topics vary, but every article and quiz offers information geared toward helping you develop healthy habits, recognize and fix unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, and learn tips and tricks to keep you on track. First thing every morning for about 5 to 10 minutes, I opened the app and worked through the material with my cup of coffee.
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2 Things I Disliked About Noom
In spite of all of Noom’s great features, there were a couple of things that bothered me.
1. I Didn’t Feel Like I Could Push Back Against the Calorie Budget
I was disheartened to discover that my daily calorie budget was only 1,280 calories. This low calorie count left me feeling undernourished, tired, and unable to think clearly or perform at the level I once did while pumping iron or hitting the pavement. It also made it hard to stick with the program.
In all fairness, I could have mentioned the issue of the low calorie budget to my goal specialist — I had plenty of opportunities to — and I’m not really sure why I didn’t. I think I was just trying to make it work, and part of me felt silly about complaining that the calories on a weight loss program were too low.
Also, I knew that eating fewer daily calories than usual is a standard approach for weight loss — if you take in fewer calories than you burn, your body fat stores provide the energy you need, which leads to weight loss, according to the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. But the problem was that the app didn’t query me on my level of activity from the get-go, or my initial calorie intake, so those factors weren't considered in my calorie limit.
Noom does adjust your calorie intake for the day if you log exercise in the app (roughly half of the calories you burned get added to your calorie budget), but it would have been helpful to have a higher calorie budget going into my workouts — not just after. Anyway, though I made every effort to fill up with fruits, veggies, and other low-calorie, high-fiber options, I was hungry all the time and went over my calorie budget by at least 500 calories most days just to be able to exercise. I usually added fruits and vegetables, but I also added the occasional granola bar or small protein shake. I felt only slightly better, though. That is, the extra calories helped take the edge off my hunger, but they didn’t make me feel full or satisfied.
Maybe continuing the program into week 13 (the healthy weight program I signed up for is 16 weeks long), which addresses physical activity, would have addressed my concern about the low calorie budget. But honestly, I became too discouraged in these first two weeks.
I did check in with my support group coach to find out if there was any way to increase my daily calorie budget, and she suggested slowing my weight loss pace (I had selected “rabbit” pace, which was right in the middle). I adjusted my desired pace back to “turtle” (the slowest option) and my calorie budget went up to 1,660.
However, while this amount seemed closer to the optimal for weight loss, I still doubt that this would have been enough calories for me. I often reached this amount when I went over my daily calorie budget, but I still felt hungry and fatigued. I’ve been strength training at least three days per week for the past several years and have added a good chunk of muscle. This is likely the reason I need a higher calorie budget than I was assigned.
2. The Color-Coded Foods Made Me Feel Bad About What I Couldn’t Eat
While Noom is careful about not labeling any foods as “good” or “bad,” they do assign a color to any food you log in the app.
Red foods are calorie dense (and include almonds and honey) and should make up roughly 25 percent of your daily calories. Meanwhile, yellow foods are moderately calorie dense (think turkey and low-fat milk) and should make up roughly 45 percent of your daily calories. Last, green foods are low calorie dense (such as cucumbers and plain, nonfat Greek yogurt) and should make up 30 percent of your daily calories, according to Noom. You’re encouraged to eat loads of green foods (such as broccoli and kale), moderate amounts of yellow foods, and limited amounts of red foods.
The principle makes sense — and as Noom says, “Red doesn’t always mean stop” — but I still felt guilty every time I logged a red food.
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The Bottom Line
I lost 2 pounds in two weeks. It’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s right on par with recommendations for healthy weight loss from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. I also noticed my stomach was a little flatter and my clothes were a touch looser. If I’d kept on using the app, I probably would have continued to lose weight.
Overall, Noom appears to be a promising option for anyone looking to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way.
If I could offer any advice, it’d be to do your best to prioritize green foods, but listen to your body’s hunger signals and eat if you need to. If you have to lose weight for medical reasons, make sure to keep your doctor in the loop, and consider bringing a registered dietitian nutritionist on board who can help you navigate this plan in person. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a search tool to help you find one in your hometown.
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Other Ways I Manage My Weight
Noom is hardly the first — or only — tool I’ve used to lose weight and maintain it. I’ve tried many diets and strategies, but the one constant over the years has been regular exercise. Healthy eating habits are key to moving the needle on the scale at first, but exercise certainly helps. After all, physical activity in general accounts for 15 to 30 percent of your total daily caloric expenditure, according to a review. Plus, a study published in November 2017 in Obesity found that The Biggest Loser competitors who boosted their physical activity by 160 percent were able to better maintain their weight loss six years later. So I make sure to get exercise of some form or another (such as strength training, walking, or running) just about every single day. Exercise not only helps me burn calories but it also keeps my muscles strong, my heart healthy, and my mind clear.
In case you’re wondering, I stopped using Noom after two weeks. I liked having a food log and the support of a coach, but I don’t want to feel tethered to such a low-calorie budget anymore. That said, I will incorporate some of the tools I’ve learned — like reaching for more low-calorie-dense foods and finding healthier options to curb cravings — to keep my weight loss going (I hope!).