What goes up must come down.
In preparation for his attempt to swim the English Channel in summer 2020, Craig Lewin of Canton, Massachusetts, purposely gained about 20 pounds. It’s a common strategy for long-distance swimmers to pile on some weight in advance of a big event, as it’s believed the added fat can help the athlete better withstand the cold water.
“That was my favorite part about training,” he says. “The not caring about what I ate.”
But after achieving his dream — he was successful on July 30, 2020, in a quick 11 hours and 24 minutes — Lewin decided it was time to trim back down. To do that, he joined his wife, Alex Lewin, in using Noom, a relatively new app and weight-loss program that claims to use psychology to help dieters reset habits and thought patterns around food.
Photos that sparked a change
Alex, who works as the associate director of business management at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, says she found Noom in February 2020 after returning from a trip with a friend. “After I got home, I looked through the photos, and I couldn’t believe how I looked,” she recalls. “I knew I needed to make a change.”
She reached out to a co-worker who’d tried a lot of diets, and she recommended Noom.
“I signed up for it on the spot. I didn’t just download the app, I put the money in right away,” she says, and committed to the program. Within about nine months, she’d lost 45 pounds using Noom. She now weighs “less than I did when I graduated from high school, which is wild because weight was something that I always felt challenged with my entire life,” she says.
For his part, Craig also lost 20 pounds in three months using the Noom approach. Here, the Lewins share some of what made Noom the right solution for them.
How Noom differentiates itself from many other diet programs is by presenting users with daily reading and tasks that can help them reset their relationship with food and the way they think about making lasting changes. For Alex, this approach really worked.
However, “this program is not for everyone,” says Erin Holley, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “If you have a history of an eating disorder or have struggled with chronic dieting or restrictive eating patterns, this is not for you.” Better to visit with a registered dietitian for more tailored advice and support.
Alex agrees that the task-based and reading-heavy approach to changing behaviors is best suited to certain types of people like her, who do well with checklists. “It’s very much geared towards people who have sort of a checklist or completion-ist mentality,” she says. “I’m one of those people who, if you give me a checklist, I want to do everything on it. And I want to get an A on every single thing in the checklist. The idea of having little tests to do every day that work towards a larger goal was really appealing to me.”
In the end, it comes down to knowing what might work for you and finding a program to match your specific needs, goals and challenges.
Keep goals reasonable.
Because Noom asks you to set a series of goals, one way to ensure you can be successful continually is to keep those goals reasonable. Making your progress with a series of attainable goals can help you stay committed and on track.
Rely on your coach.
Noom offers one-on-one support from specially trained coaches who will be with you for your entire journey. “You develop a relationship with them over the course of your journey,” Alex says, and this helps with accountability. “They lift you up when you need it, or push you forward when you need it. They try to meet you wherever you are and help you through.”
Having a coach was an aspect of the Noom program she found especially helpful.
Holley notes that Noom coaches “do have some level of advanced training,” which she describes as “a positive thing.”
Rely on your cohort.
Alex adds that dieters are assigned to a support group within the app as well. These are “other people that are going through the same thing and are at the same points in the readings as you. You can interact and post things about where you are in the journey at any specific time,” which can make dieters feel less isolated.
That support can be critical for staying on track.
The handy app lives on your phone, which is probably with you 24/7, so it’s relatively easy to add in all your food and activity during the course of the day. Alex also notes that once you pay for the program, you have access to an enormous library of healthy and tasty recipes. She says this access helped her make good decisions in the kitchen when preparing meals.
Holley adds that Noom “does not require you to purchase special food or supplements. Thankfully the creators of this program realize that people need to learn to eat regular foods, the same ones that they’ll eat when they’re no longer following this app or program.”
Learn moderation for the long haul.
Another reason Alex says she was successful using Noom was because no specific foods are outlawed. The program uses a green-yellow-red food classification system and encourages dieters to consume mostly green foods — vegetables, fruits and whole grains — and limit red foods, such as baked goods, fried foods and processed meats. But, Alex says if she eats something in the red category, “they don’t make me feel bad about it.”
Instead, the program helped her figure out how to incorporate her favorite foods — wine, Thai food and burrata cheese — in a sensible, sustainable way. “It’s all about finding balance in your life and making it successful for the long run,” she says.
Similarly, Craig adds, “I like that it didn’t cut out foods. Eat whatever you want, just be reasonable.”
Adopt a routine.
Craig says he liked that the program helped him reframe how weight loss works. He liked that he got “into a routine of doing the readings and weighing yourself every day.”
Doing so helped elucidate to him that “a 5-pound fluctuation one day to the next is not a big deal. And, in fact, you should expect it. Understanding those fluctuations and what your true weight-loss graph looked like was really interesting for me.”
Find what works for you.
Despite having been skeptical in the beginning, Craig now says that Noom worked for him, and he learned a lot along the way about different approaches to eating such as the keto diet, intermittent fasting and other dietary patterns that helped him adjust the way he was eating.
“If I didn’t use the app and start learning more about those different diet types and the psychology behind it, I don’t think I would have tried it,” he says.
A few words of caution
Holley notes that while Noom positions itself as more of a psychology-based approach to lifestyle change than a diet per se, that might not be true.
“Noom claims that it’s the ‘anti-diet’ for all those who are done with dieting. But is it really? For each account I’ve heard and read, all users are assigned a very low calorie amount, around 1,200 calories per day. This is incredibly low, aka definitely a diet. This is the same amount of calories that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends for 4- to 8-year-old nonactive children. I’m not sure why or how Noom recommends such a low calorie level for adults, but this is ridiculous to think that a grown adult should get that level of calories.”
She also notes that a smaller percentage of dieters have found success using the program than some of the marketing materials might suggest. According to a 2016 study, many people dropped out of the program before the end of the six-month study period. In the end, for “about 86% of users, the program failed them long term,” Holley says.
“Is Noom the anti-diet it claims to be? Nope, not even a little bit, not at all. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she adds.
Tips that worked for real people using Noom:
— Know yourself.
— Keep goals reasonable and realistic.
— Rely on your coach.
— Rely on your cohort.
— Track everything.
— Learn moderation for the long haul.
— Adopt a routine.
— Find the eating approach that works for you.
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