What Exactly Is the Noom Diet — and Should You Try It?

Hands chopping tomatoes and cucumber for a salad (Image: Getty Images/YakobchukOlena)

People often want to lose weight without doing the required work to achieve their goal — which gives way to quick-fix diets that promise lasting results becoming so popular. But when it comes to successful long-term weight loss, any diet that claims a quick-fix really is too good to be true.

In an effort to help people lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way, behavioral psychologists designed the Noom diet, which focuses on behavior changes, New York-based dietitian Natalie Rizzo, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

"They don't promise crazy results — the website says to expect to lose one to two pounds per week — and no foods are off-limits," Rizzo says. "A lot of times in talking to clients, I say, 'It's not about the food, it's about the behavior.' That's what the Noom diet addresses."

What is the Noom Diet?

At its core, the Noom diet, which is used by nearly 50 million people worldwide, is an approach to weight loss that focuses on small lifestyle changes. Unlike a traditional restrictive dieting approach, adopting small lifestyle changes can result in more sustainable weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Noom diet features two different membership plans including the Healthy Weight Program and the Diabetes Prevention Program, all available via your fingertips, quite literally, as Noom is based on a mobile app. The plan has gained a following among young adults and is often touted as the "Weight Watchers for millennials" due to its regular check-in feature that pairs users with a specialist who will help them achieve their goals.

"The app connects people with a 'goal specialist' who helps them overcome emotional and psychological barriers to losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle," Rizzo says. While users have the ability to work closely with their Noom goal specialist, these specialists are not registered dietitians — professionals who have gone through rigorous schooling, training and certification that includes completing coursework and a supervised practice program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) and passing a national exam — or certified psychologists.

According to the Noom website, coaches complete a Noom-specific certification program that is recognized by the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). They also complete the Centers for Disease Control's Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) Lifestyle Coach training. What's more, the Noom team coaches specialize in psychology, social work, nutrition and exercise physiology.

How Does the Noom Diet Work?

Thanks to the technological approach via the app, Noom guides users through a series of questions to provide an individualized weight-loss plan, Rizzo explains.

For starters, the Noom diet teaches its users how to choose healthier foods using a color-coding system. The color green, for example, indicates foods that people can eat any time, such as vegetables and fruit. Yellow represents foods people should eat less of, like lean meats, starches and calorie-dense foods such as avocado. Lastly, red is saved for foods that should be eaten very rarely — think fried foods, pizza, desserts and red meat.

The color approach isn't to tell users not to eat certain foods but rather to educate people on better food choices. No food is off-limits, which is an important differentiator from other trendy diets, including keto, Whole30 and paleo.

While the Noom diet gives you a daily calorie allotment based on your goals, it goes a step beyond traditional weight-loss apps — which generally only provide a calorie allotment and a food tracker, Rizzo says.

"The psychological aspect is what makes this different than other apps," Rizzo explains. "It addresses individual behaviors, which is a necessary component of weight loss." Once you join Noom, you'll work with your coach, who practices cognitive behavioral therapy, to address behavioral patterns that can help you make life-long changes. According to the 2013 guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, lifestyle modification through cognitive and behavioral treatment is considered one of the most effective ways to maintain weight loss.

But how effective is Noom's behavioral approach? A review of the Noom Diet by Abby Langer, RD praised her coach's dedication to working with Langer's personal goals. "My coach wisely [told me] that while weighing and tracking [food] are meant to be beneficial to me, I should stop doing them if they don't feel that way ... She then went on to ask what I thought a more positive routine would look like for me. I loved how she turned my situation around to let me talk out solutions with her instead of just telling me what to do," Langer writes.

How Much Does the Noom Diet Cost?

Many nutrition and weight-loss apps are free, but they do not provide individualized advice nor do they connect users with a certified coaching team. In other words, you often get what you pay for.

You can sign up for a 14-day trial, which you can cancel at any time, and then you pay $49.50 per month for the Noom diet app. Users also have the option to pay extra for an individual nutrition plan.

For comparison's sake, an initial appointment with a registered dietitian could cost up to a couple hundred dollars. However, do keep in mind that some insurance plans cover these visits, and the Noom Diet does not use registered dietitians.

Benefits of the Noom Diet

Unlike fad diets, which are often very restrictive and impossible to maintain over the long term, Noom helps users navigate a more healthy, maintainable lifestyle to make better food choices.

"If you can use Noom to learn to choose healthy foods and overcome the emotional aspects of eating, then this can definitely be a long-lasting lifestyle change," Rizzo says, pointing out that behavior changes are a necessary component of weight loss.

Noom has reported that 64 percent of people who completed the Diabetes Prevention Program lost 5 percent or more of their body weight, citing a September 2016 study published in the BMJ. However, the study only lasted six months and, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital, successful weight loss is defined as losing weight and keeping it off for at least five years.

A November 2016 study published in Scientific Reports sampled 35,921 Noom app users and found that 77.9 percent were able to lose weight and keep it off between October 2012 and April 2014. In fact, 22.7 percent of all app users experienced a 10 percent or more weight reduction.

"If the person using the app learns how to create healthy behaviors, such as combatting emotional eating, limiting portions, creating healthy meal patterns and making planning meals a priority, I think this can be maintained in the long term," Rizzo says. "The individual would have to be motivated to continue with this lifestyle if they stop using the app."

Because Noom does not restrict any type of food, it gives users the freedom to still enjoy themselves, say, by going out to eat. Noom provides dining-out tips that include limiting how much bread and butter you eat, avoiding cream sauces, asking for salad dressing on the side, opting for more lean protein and doubling a veggie portion.

Risks of the Noom Diet

On its face, there aren't any health risks associated with this approach to weight loss, Rizzo says. That said, registered dietitians, including Rizzo and Langer's review, warn about the triggering effect the app can bring to people who suffer or have suffered from eating disorders or disordered eating.

"[Food tracking] can be triggering for people who are at risk for disordered eating or who have a history of obsessive behavior. This is where I have to say that if you are at risk for disordered eating or have a history of disordered eating that's triggered by tracking and weighing, do not do this program," Langer cautions.

Should You Try the Noom Diet?

When used as it is intended — by making small lifestyle changes, choosing healthy foods and working with the certified Noom team — the Noom diet is a healthy approach to weight loss and maintenance.

Rizzo recommends Noom for someone who wants to lose weight and is ready to put in the work. "If you want a quick fix, this app won't work for you," she says. "It requires dedicating time and money to your health," she notes, adding that you'll gain education and likely see results in return. Rizzo also notes that users have to really stick with the program for months to see those results, which is a sign of a healthy approach to weight loss.

In addition to people who suffer from or have suffered from eating disorders or disordered eating, Rizzo advises that people with disease-related dietary restrictions, including food allergies, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), cancer, bariatric surgery, heart disease or kidney problems, avoid this app. "You would be better off meeting with a registered dietitian one-on-one," she says, adding that there's a good chance that your health insurance will cover it.

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