Is the Noom Diet Really … a Diet?

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You may have heard it advertised on your favorite podcast or local radio station. But what is Noom? Just another fad?

Noom is an app-based program that combines nutrition, exercise, and mental wellness. It’s the latest trend in weight loss – even though it’s been around since 2013 and has more than 45 million users around the world.

“I’m not sure that I would call it a diet,” says Jason Stevenson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and specialist in sports nutrition at the University of Miami Health System. “It focuses on losing weight, but if you don’t lose weight, it’s at least helping instill better eating habits. It’s related to making positive behavioral changes.”

“It’s psychology-based which is how weight loss plans should be based,” says Stevenson. “It’s similar to MyFitnessPal in which you can track food and exercise. It has an element of interaction with coaches. The concept is good, and they claim high success rates for those reasons.”

Checking out its website, you read that Noom creates a personalized plan based on a person’s unique goals and uses coaches to reinforce those goals. Each day, members receive a brief nutrition course — catered to where a person is in their journey — followed by daily quizzes.

The program’s foundation is one based on a color-coding system that ranks foods from green to yellow to red. This system is meant to help members understand the density of calories in foods and not necessarily indicate that it’s bad for you. Red means it’s much more calorie-dense and might not fill you up. This color-grading is meant to create balance in your meals.

Green options:

  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Non-fat yogurt

Yellow options:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Eggs
  • Black beans
  • Whole grain tortilla
  • Salmon

Red items:

  • Nut butter
  • Oils
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Your diet diary is a key to success

In a 2016 study, Noom reported that of the 35,921 users analyzed, approximately 78 percent lost weight and 60 percent kept it off a year later. The study found that the most important factor affecting maintenance or failure of weight reduction was the dinner input frequency. User-submitted data “is automatically fed to your own plan to improve it every day” according to their website.

There are still inconsistent findings with respect to the effect of apps on weight reduction, says Stevenson.

“There is a bit of a debate as to whether app-based or paper-based food/exercise diaries work best for program adherence, but we do know that using a food/exercise diary of any kind is more likely to result in a positive behavior change than not using.”

The question is: if you were to stop using a food/exercise diary after you’ve reached your goals, would the positive behavior changes stick?

Accountability counts

“The things that you do now have been programmed since you were a kid,” says Stevenson. “It’s very difficult to make changes as an adult because you’ve been doing these things for so long that it’s ingrained in your DNA. This is important, the behavioral aspect, which is where Noom may be a good thing.”

NoomBut as the study revealed, the success was contingent upon those 35K users entering data, which can be problematic for some people. Don’t want to be glued to your phone? The study’s findings support the idea that only users who record habits regularly will have better odds of losing weight (and keeping it off).

“Some people do well with app-based diets where they can track things on their own,” he says. “I’ve seen some that are very simple, and some are very detail-oriented. Apps have their place, but not everyone works well with them.”

The simple fact is that each person is unique and will respond to a weight loss plan in a correspondingly unique way.

“Just like everything else, there’s not one fix for everybody. There’s not one plan that will meet everyone’s needs. I might recommend [Noom] to someone who couldn’t see a dietitian on a regular basis. It’s not for the weight loss aspect. It’s for the behavioral change so a person can take those tools and build upon it.”

There are four components to a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, psychological well being, and rest and recovery.

Rather than promoting crash diets, Noom promotes long-term positive behavior modification. But, Stevenson says its approach might be missing one key element and not focusing closely enough on others.

Noom’s focus is on diet and eating behaviors, not so much exercise.  And they make no mention of rest and recovery; at least from what I see. I also want to point out that ‘rest and recovery’ also applies to ‘dieting’ or at least being in a calorie deficit, not just exercise. There’s evidence that taking breaks from a calorie-restrictive nutrition plan has advantages: not only for weight-loss but also for sustainability as long as you don’t get out of control.”

While the diet does offer custom work out plans which could possibly include recovery days, the basic subscription doesn’t offer it, meaning that some people are only getting an education on the nutrition side. Stevenson explains that when there is a focus on exercise (without diet), people are more likely to take on better eating habits; while a focus on a diet alone does not necessarily lead people to be interested in exercise. And all four components must have a role.

 


Cara Tremols is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.


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