Trigger warning: Diet culture and disordered eating.
Since diet culture has a history of being extremely toxic, we're always skeptical of weight loss trends—especially those that call for cutting out entire food groups. Weight isn't always indicator of health; instead you should focus on moving your body in a way that feels comfortable and consuming plenty of whole foods. That's why we couldn't help but be intrigued when we first heard about Noom—an app that claims to use psychology to help you make healthier eating choices. This is one diet that doesn't involve cutting out important food groups or depriving yourself when you're hungry. But does it work, and is it safe? Ahead, dietitians share everything you need to know about using the Noom diet for weight loss.
Meet the Expert
- Grace Goodwin Dwyer is a registered dietitian and nutritionist specializing in women's nutrition, including preconceptional, prenatal, and breastfeeding nutrition.
- Shannon Leininger is a registered dietitian and the founder of LiveWell Nutrition. She is also a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist
- Lisa Young is a registered dietitian and published author specializing in portion control, as well as an adjunct professor at NYU's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.
What Is Noom?
Noom is an app-based weight-loss program that uses psychology to try to help you make smart food choices. Rather than limiting or restricting specific foods like many other diets and weight loss plans, Noom aims to help users make balanced food choices, placing an emphasis on long-term behavior change.
How Does Noom work?
Noom uses a color-coded system a bit like a stoplight to categorize foods, with green indicating the best foods to eat, red indicating the worst, and yellow somewhere in between. In the green category you’ll see foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; in the yellow category you’ll see foods like beans and lean meat; and in the red category you’ll see calorie-dense items like processed foods and red meat. As a Noom user, you’ll be encouraged to log your food intake and exercise within the app.
Noom isn’t overly restrictive, so this diet won’t be telling you to subsist on salad and never eat pizza again. Instead, Noom will suggest which percentage of your daily caloric intake should come from each of the red, yellow, and green categories we mentioned earlier. Coaches from Noom will help you review your food and exercise log and help you set goals, and you can also get support from other Noom users.
Is Noom Safe?
“Compared to drastically restricted or unbalanced diets—like juice cleanses or those extremely low in carbohydrates—Noom is relatively safe because it still allows for a variety of foods,” says Dwyer.
Noom advertises that people can expect to lose one to two pounds each week while using the plan. In many cases, this may be healthy and safe, but context is important. “If you are already at a healthy and stable weight for your body, even one to two pounds per week over the course of multiple weeks may be unhealthy,” Dwyer says.
Before starting any new diet, it’s important to remember that you should always consult with your physician. Nutrition isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, and there may be a number of reasons why a particular diet or eating plan may not be a good fit for you.
For people who are recovering from an eating disorder, Noom isn’t safe, Dwyer says.The app encourages calorie tracking and uses a lot of weight-loss oriented language and messaging, like “fat burn” and “lose weight.”
“If you've struggled with disordered eating or chronic restriction, this language can be triggering and undo progress that you've made,” Dwyer says.
Noom also may not be a great idea for teenagers or young people who are still developing their sense of self and may be driven towards disordered eating or poor body image when instructed to do daily weigh-ins, Dwyer adds.
What Happens After You Buy and Download the App?
After downloading Noom, you will be asked to input a bunch of information into a questionnaire, including your goals (you’ll see options like “get fit for good” or “lose weight for good”), demographic information like height and weight, ideal weight, age, whether you’re pregnant, your lifestyle habits (including what you eat and how often), whether you’re at risk for certain health conditions, whether you’ve taken antibiotics in the past two years, and the type of environment you live in (rural, suburbs, or urban).
Next, the app will ask some questions about your habits and behaviors, like whether you’ve had any life events that lead to weight gain over the past few years, how long it’s been since you were at your ideal weight, if you’ve used any weight-loss programs in the past year, and if your weight has ever affected your ability to socialize or be with friends and family.
Finally, the app will ask about fitness and nutrition, allowing you to choose whether you want to focus your plan on nutrition, building good habits, physical activity, or something else. In this section of questions, Noom will also ask about food allergies, motivation, when you snack and what triggers your urge to snack, how busy your schedule is, whether you belong to a gym, and more. You can also set a goal, such as “run a 5k,” “feel comfortable and confident in my body,” or “feel healthier.” All this information will then be used to create your personalized plan, though you won’t be able to see your plan until you pay.
For many people, Noom’s stoplight system removes the guesswork from healthy eating. “No foods are off limits, but users will discover that if they choose to eat more red foods, the app will suggest a smaller portions compared to if they choose to eat more green foods,” says Leininger.
Another benefit is that the app provides its users with accountability through having access to a health coach and other Noom users. Another plus is that “Noom promotes healthy weight loss and acknowledges that traditional calorie restrictive diets often result in yo-yo dieting and ultimately weight regain,” Leininger says.
As you decide whether this is a good diet plan for you, it’s important to understand that Noom coaches are not required to be registered dietitians (RDs) or to complete a formal nutrition degree.Young doesn’t think Noom’s health coaches have the necessary training to advise people on diet and nutrition.
The cost of Noom can be prohibitive for some people, too. Typically, the app starts around $59 per month, with cheaper rates available to those who who sign up for several months of access. If you’re on the fence about Noom, consider their free 14-day trial before signing up as a monthly user.
“Another drawback is that Noom’s focus is solely on calories, so users that are tracking specific nutrients [such as] carbs, protein, fat, and more may not find Noom to be helpful for that,” Leininger says.
As we mentioned earlier, Noom and other organized weight-loss programs may not be the best idea for people with a history of disordered eating habits. “A more personalized and individualized face-to-face approach with a trained clinician is a better approach,” Young says.
If you decide to try Noom, remember that while the app uses a lot of language ensuring that you will lose weight by a certain date, weight loss is pretty complicated, and we often overestimate how much of it falls within our control. "An app that guarantees weight loss sets a user up for high expectations that may, to some degree, be outside of their control," Dwyer says. "When reality falls short of expectations, we then feel really poorly about ourselves, which means we might give up becoming healthier." In the end, it's all about your personal journey. Weight loss can be healthy for your body, but it can also be very unhealthy (both mentally and physically). If you're concerned about your weight as it relates to your health, it's best to first see your general care physician for a recommended course of action, which may or may not align with Noom (or with losing weight at all).