Health and fitness apps are booming and the market is forecast to reach $US14.64 billion by 2027.
One app that's growing in popularity is Noom, which markets itself as "the last weight-loss app you'll ever need".
The Noom website says its "Healthy Weight program empowers participants to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through lifestyle intervention".
But is it a diet? Does it work? And is it worth it? Two CHOICE staffers share their experiences.
What is Noom?
Noom is an app-based wellbeing and weight-loss program that uses "science and personalisation" to help you lose weight. It claims to offer its users insights into their eating habits and provide knowledge that allows them to make permanent changes.
Its Noom Mood offering (not currently available in Australia) is a program that aims to help users understand stress and manage it better.
How does Noom work?
When you sign up to Noom you are asked to answer a series of questions (more than 70 when we signed up). These include things you'd expect (weight, height, age, sex and your weight-loss goals) as well as questions about your motivations for losing weight, information about your family history for conditions like diabetes and cholesterol, eating habits (do you watch TV or scroll on your phone while eating, do you snack and if so when?), and behavioural questions, such as what you see as the barriers to losing weight. It uses this information to provide a prediction on when you will achieve your goal and then sets a daily calorie goal.
Once signed up, users are encouraged to track their weight daily, record what they eat in the app and read daily lessons to help develop their knowledge of nutrition and the psychology of weight loss. It also offers support through generic Noom Guides, one-on-one coaching and a Noom community. It stresses the fact that it uses psychological insights to help users achieve their goals and promotes its innovation and technology as central to its success.
Noom also prompts physical activity by giving you a daily step goal which starts small and increases automatically, though you can also set this manually. In order for it to track steps, users are asked to allow it to access data from other apps on your phone (for example, fitness trackers).
The one-on-one coaching garners mixed reviews. Some users report finding it helpful while others complain that their interactions are formulaic and impersonal. The company also significantly scaled back its coaching staff in 2022.
What foods can you eat?
Noom makes a lot of the fact that you can eat or drink pretty much anything and that no foods are forbidden. Instead, it categorises foods as belonging to either the orange, yellow or green categories, which are based on calorie density. (When Noom began, the orange classification was red. However, in 2022 they changed this after receiving criticism that the red classification implied the foods were somehow dangerous and off-limits).
It's stressed that none of these foods are either good or bad and that the classifications should be taken as a portion guide
Foods classified as "orange" include things like desserts and it's suggested you eat fewer of these, but you don't have to give them up altogether. Instead you're told they should make up about 25% or less of your calorie intake. Yellow foods include things like eggs and avocados and you're told these should make up about 45% of your daily diet. Green foods include vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy products and you're advised these should form at least 30% of your diet. It's stressed that none of these foods are either good or bad and that the classifications should be taken as a portion guide.
An example of a typical day's eating while using Noom might include porridge with fruit for breakfast, a salad with tuna for lunch and some chicken breast and vegetables for dinner, as well as snacks like fruit or low-fat yoghurt. Of course you can also eat sweets or other more calorie-dense foods, as long as they fit within your calorie budget. That budget will vary depending on your age, gender, starting weight and other factors, such as how active you are.
How much does Noom cost?
You won’t easily find this information on the Noom website (it is there, but we had to dig), and most attempts to get a price require the user to answer dozens of questions before the price will be revealed.
When we signed up in July 2020, a four-month plan cost A$159 and it was the same when we checked again in late 2022. Users could also choose a two-month plan for $129, six months for $199, eight months for $219 or 12 months for $249. You can also just download the app for free and use it to track calories, but you won’t get access to the features that set Noom apart from other food-logging apps, such as the daily curriculum and logging.
Cancelling your subscription on the app is relatively straightforward. It can be done through your smartphone’s subscription settings or you can send a message to your Noom guides or coach saying “CANCEL” and then you’ll be sent a link automatically that allows you to end the subscription.
What are Noom coins?
Noom coins are earned by completing the tasks assigned by the program, whether it’s logging your meals, recording your weight or completing your lessons. Noom says that they’re working on linking these to prizes and rewards, but at the time of writing they are simply linked to weight loss, with Noom claiming that, on average, "Noomers lose one pound for every five Noom Coins they earn".
Noom vs WW/WeightWatchers
The WW (formerly Weight Watchers) app is an alternative to Noom. It's similar in that it also offers reading to help you understand food and nutrition, allows you to track what you eat (using the WW points plan), your exercise, lets you record your weight and also offers coaching via a chat function.
The coaching is available via the app or website and gives paying subscribers answers to questions on what to eat, how to maintain motivation, as well as clarification on the points system, among other things.
Rather than simply tracking calories as you do with Noom, WW gives food a points value based on its full nutritional value, including added sugars, fibre, protein, saturated fats, etc. Once you fill in the basic information about your age, height, weight and goal weight you get a daily points budget and a weekly budget, described as a "little extra cushion" to use throughout the week.
The program also provides a list of ZeroPoint foods which are foods you can eat without logging. Helpfully, the app also provides suggestions of what to choose when eating out at restaurants and recipes to cook at home. Noom also offers recipe suggestions.
In terms of pricing, WW's offering is clear and a lot easier to find than Noom's
Both apps claim to be scientifically proven and to be something more than a simple calorie tracker. Both promote their use of technology, both promote the fact they give users a personalised plan, both have a community aspect and both offer some kind of personalised support.
In terms of pricing, WW's offering is clear and a lot easier to find than Noom's. There are three tiers – Core, Premium and Personal Coaching.
The Core offering includes tracking through the app, a members' social community, recipe builder and barcode scanner, syncing to your smart scales and fitness devices and program downloads like meal plans and guides. It costs $42.50 per month ($255 for seven months at the time of writing, with a one month free offer) vs Noom's offering of six months for $199 or eight months for $219. This plan appears to be most similar to Noom in terms of what it offers its users.
WW's premium offering includes everything in the Core plan along with potential eligibility for health fund rebates, weekly workshops with WW coaches and weekly wellness check-ins with a WW Coach for accountability. If you sign up to four months on the Premium plan, you'll pay $81.95 per month.
As well as the Core and Premium options, WW also offers a personal coaching plan. This includes everything in the Premium offering (other than the weekly workshops) as well as personalised weekly action plans, personalised skills training and one-to-one coaching at a time that suits you. The Personal Coaching plan costs $109.50/month if you sign up for one month, $99.50/month if you sign up for three months and $89.50/month for a six-month plan.
Cancelling your subscription to WW is done through your smartphone's subscriptions settings.
Marg before starting Noom (left) and after losing 15kg.
Marg: 'It worked for me'
I'm as fond of a chocolate biscuit or a hot chip as the next person, but I realised I'd taken it a little far when my doctor warned me that if I didn't get my weight under control I'd be putting my health at risk.
In all honesty, it wasn't the first time I'd heard such warnings, but my problem was that I didn't actually know where to start. Sure, I knew the theory – eat less, move more – but putting it into practice felt more difficult than it should have. I made vague attempts to eat better, but without a clear plan my resolve failed again and again.
My doctor warned me that if I didn't get my weight under control I'd be putting my health at risk
Then I found Noom (or rather, they found me, via targeted Facebook advertising, which accurately picked me as a prime candidate). With a sense that I could at least give it a try – and encouraged by the 2016 University of Sydney study that ranked it first among the weight-loss apps it reviewed – I signed up.
Does Noom work?
For me, yes. I lost 15kg in the first six months after I began using the app in mid 2020. After the initial weight loss I kept losing weight and a year later was down a further five kilograms for a total of 20kg lost. More than two years on I'm still maintaining, though have noticed some old habits creeping back so have signed up for a new two-month plan on Noom in the hope it will help reinforce the lessons I learned the first time around to help me to continue to maintain my weight.
I've also kept up the physical activity the program encouraged, running regularly and attending boot camp once a week, as well as aiming for 10,000 steps each day. The lessons I learned with Noom have made me more mindful of the choices and have definitely assisted me in maintaining a healthy weight.
Marg's weight-loss chart.
Using the app
The way you use the app – logging foods and weigh-ins being the primary functions – was simple enough. The food library you could choose from was lacking in Australian products, which was somewhat annoying at times. I make most of my meals from scratch so this wasn't a huge issue, but I'd imagine if you bought a lot of processed foods or regularly ate out it might be more of an irritation.
Noom also features a daily curriculum of lessons to help you understand the patterns of behaviour that lead to weight gain and weight loss and you're encouraged to give the curriculum 10 minutes a day (In 2020 all the lessons were in article format but in 2022 they had made many of them available as audio lessons, too). There are also quizzes and other activities (journalling, for example) linked to the reading.
It's one of the things that sets Noom apart from other food logging apps but Noom's big sell is that it provides personalised coaching. This is promoted as an important point of difference and your coach – aka, goal specialist – is assigned to you to help keep you motivated and working towards your "big picture" goal, something you set early on in the process.
During my first go at Noom in 2020 my coach introduced himself early on as my "goal specialist". I found his support useful in providing reassurance when I experienced frustration with the inevitable ups and downs of weight loss. He also asked some interesting questions that made me think about what I was learning and answered questions I had about some of the things I noticed about the process. I found his input to be a useful balance of the practical and more abstract.
In 2022/23 the coaching had changed and rather than an individual who I met straight away, my initial interactions were with the anonymous "Noom guides" which may or may not have been a real person – it was hard to tell. However, I was able to eventually connect with a coach who I was introduced to by name, but I had to specifically request it. In this aspect, Noom definitely felt less valuable compared to 2020.
The community had changed too. In 2020 I was assigned a group where I could talk to other Noom users who are at a similar point in their subscription. The benefit of this feature was a bit hit and miss for me as I felt I was already getting lots of support from family and my coach.
In 2022/23 the community, called Noom Circles, was more like a social network where I could sign up to chat to other Noom users about subjects related to my interests – such as maintenance, movement, and recipes, which were among my picks. This was of limited value and I rarely checked the content in this part of the app.
Noom is a tool and like any tool it will only work if you use it. A shiny new spanner won't fix a leaky tap if it just sits in the tool box and Noom is the same – you still need to do the work.
Noom is a tool and like any tool it will only work if you use it
Having said that, it certainly helped me and while it might not be the right fit for everyone, I think it's worth a go. I've not only lost weight, I've also begun exercising and gone from being horrifyingly sedentary to running and working out several times a week.
Signing up for a second time was a different experience because the app had changed quite a bit and the coaching was less of a feature than the first time. However, it has been useful to revisit the lessons that helped the first time I did Noom and made maintenance more achievable.
Rachel: 'Noom wasn't for me'
I'd become so overwhelmed by conflicting information about what was a healthy way of eating – keto, paleo, low carb, high protein, low sugar, Mediterranean, intermittent fasting – that I was looking for something to clear up my confusion.
What really appealed to me about the program is that it was marketed as not a diet, but a lifestyle, and you had real life coaches to help you along. But both of these claims I found somewhat dubious.
I don't know what their definition of a diet is, but Noom asks you to track calories and weigh yourself. That tastes like a diet to me.
What really appealed to me about the program is that it was marketed as not a diet, but a lifestyle
Noom's colour-coded food categories were initially helpful, and the kind of re-education I needed. By recording my food I could see how much of my calorie intake was taken up by 'green' (eat plenty), 'yellow' (eat moderately) or 'red' (eat little of).
In hindsight, and as I've read more about diet culture, I now wonder if food should really be triggering a red flag alert. Is that the type of relationship I want to have with food? There must have been others who felt the same way, as the app has now changed its 'red' food category to 'orange' – so clearly those foods are only moderately 'dangerous' now.
I was so excited to have access to a real live person who would help support me. But something felt a little lifeless about her. Her questions, comments and responses were all so perfectly composed, and so devoid of typos, regular human imperfections and personality that I googled "Are Noom coaches real?"
I do believe Noom users are assigned a real person as their coach, but I also believe there's a liberal dose of artificial intelligence being employed to automate a good part of their job.
The coach's comments and responses were all so perfectly composed, and so devoid of typos, regular human imperfections and personality that I googled 'Are Noom coaches real?'
I understood why a tech company would create a system that would 'scale' easily and not rely purely on human power, but a little bit of love for it died the day I began to wonder how real my coach was.
What really made Noom stand apart was its daily reading material. It probably only took around 10–15 minutes, but as time went on, it began to feel like a burden. It was a lot of information, with references to scientific studies and quizzes at every stage to make sure you understood.
I was impressed with the section where they attempted to educate you on how to critically assess a 'scientific' claim, which included considering who paid for the study. It was 'very CHOICE', as we say around these parts.
And while all this may sound incredibly dry, they've put in a lot of effort to make it entertaining. Maybe too much effort. The style they've gone for is irreverence on steroids, and I found myself rolling my eyes after the second week. Maybe I'm just a grumpy Gen-Xer, but it seriously grated. I began by diligently consuming every piece of information, transitioned to scanning by about week four, and then started skipping the reading altogether.
Maybe I'm just a grumpy Gen-Xer, but it seriously grated
There was a fair amount of Noom lingo that confused me at times. The coaches were called Goal Specialists, and early on I had to create what they called "Your Big Picture (YBP)", and a "Super Goal". I recall not fully understanding what these were supposed to be, entering something to fulfil the task, but then there was no record of what those were anywhere in the app. Weeks later Noom would refer to my YBP and my Super Goal, and ask me to reflect on how I was working towards them, but I couldn't remember what they were.
Using the app
The app had a Daily Tasks list that helped you keep track of your tasks and see at a glance what you had completed – log your meals; weigh in; walk X thousand steps (you set your own target); and more. You'd think this was a good thing, and helpful. And it was – initially. But after a while it started to weigh on me (no pun intended) when I hadn't completed something. I already had a home 'to do' list, and a work 'to do' list, and now I had a Noom 'to do' list. It started to become YET ANOTHER THING I had to attend to. Just another example of all the things I wasn't completing.
I already had a home 'to do' list, and a work 'to do' list, and now I had a Noom 'to do' list
The most surprising thing about Noom was how easy it was to leave. I fully expected the gym membership treatment. You know... "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave". Not so. I wrote to my coach to let them know that the program didn't suit me and I'd like to cancel when the initial period is over. I'm thinking the AI picked up on the word "cancel", and I got a System Generated Message: "Looks like you no longer want to continue with your recurring Noom subscription – we're sorry to see you go! Just click on this link and you'll be able to turn off auto-renew on the program yourself." Easiest experience quitting something I've ever had.
After just two and a half months on Noom, I decided I was done. I don't recall if I lost weight, which suggests I probably didn't. But granted, I was not a dedicated student.
Noom wasn't for me, but to be fair, I'm beginning to think dieting isn't for me
If you're looking to lose weight without severely restricting one food group or type, the hours you eat, or your calories, I believe Noom has a lot to offer. It will probably be a slow burn, but that's more sustainable and better for you than rapid weight loss anyway. But you'll need to have the time, interest and energy for a lot of reading, quizzes, and interaction with the community. One might argue you could do Noom without all that, but then you'd just be logging food and weighing in, which is no different to so many other free apps out there. Noom wasn't for me, but to be fair, I'm beginning to think dieting isn't for me.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.