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Noom Is A Dieter’s Diet


In April 2018, Aidan, a 30-year-old in Ottawa, Canada, reached a low point with their body. They’d just returned from a trip to Egypt, which should have been amazing but wasn’t. “I’d packed a bunch of summer clothes that I had not visited since the previous summer,” Aidan says now. “And I guess my body had changed.” Many of the clothes didn’t fit anymore, which left them feeling like they somehow didn’t deserve a vacation. “Like, that’s not something that someone with my body should do.”

When Aidan went on Instagram to post their vacation photos, they saw ads for what seemed like the perfect solution: Noom, a brand that launched in 2008 as a scrappy exercise-tracking and calorie-counting app, the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs Saeju Jeong (who previously launched South Korea’s first heavy metal record label) and Artem Petakov, a former Google software engineer, and is now an ubiquitous weight loss app that promises to “Change how you think. Change how you eat. Change for good.”

Aidan desperately wanted to change. But they also liked how often Noom emphasized that it wasn’t a diet. (Earlier this year, a caption on the brand’s Instagram said, “Of course we’re celebrating International No Diet Day! And yes, we also help people lose weight.”) Both Noom’s Instagram and the app itself are filled with cheerful and motivating rhetoric: “Every day is another chance to get stronger, to eat better, to live healthier, and to be the best version of you,” reads a post from around the time Aidan joined. Noom isn’t just about anything so superficial as wearing a smaller jeans size — it’s about unlocking a whole new level of happiness. “Noom felt so reassuring, like, this must be the safe and effective route,” Aidan says. “I dove right in.”

I first heard about Noom in 2019, when a friend told me she was using it because she wanted to lose her baby weight but didn’t want to diet. “It’s helped me find the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with food in my life,” she told me. I remember thinking that this sounded a bit like a line from a commercial and indeed: “It changed the way I look at food,” a user said in a 2019 commercial. “This doesn’t feel restrictive, it feels like a TRUE lifestyle change,” praised another in an ad from last December.

“I think it put me on 1,400 calories per day. I mean, I’m 6 feet tall.”

The app has evolved significantly from its startup days. In 2015, Jeong and Petakov brought on a “chief of psychology” named Andreas Michaelides, Ph.D., who redesigned Noom’s user support groups and added personal health coaches who help clients set weekly goals. Noom earned more than $400 million in revenue in 2020 and is projected to earn $750 million in 2021, according to a company communication obtained by Bustle. (Noom declined to confirm these numbers.) Much of the brand’s success can be attributed to its careful positioning as the anti-diet diet, the lifestyle change that relies on the millennial-friendly principles of psychology and intuitive eating to help participants lose weight easily and sustainably.

But that wasn’t Aidan’s experience. They downloaded the app, paying around $200 for an annual subscription, and started logging their food and working through Noom’s daily lessons. “I think it put me on 1,400 calories per day,” Aidan says. “Which seems super crazy now! I mean, I’m 6 feet tall.” In addition to calculating daily calorie goals for participants, Noom teaches them to categorize foods as green (eat as much as you want), yellow (eat in moderation), and red (limit your intake). Aidan began navigating every meal that way, eating as few yellow and red foods as possible.

In July 2018, Aidan learned they had to undergo a lumpectomy. “I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to recover from surgery if I continued eating at that low-calorie level,” they say. Aidan stopped their subscription, but Noom did not stop taking up space in their brain. They kept restricting their food intake over the next year, and by October 2019 were eating so little that it impacted their job performance and relationships. “I couldn’t sleep, my digestive system was not functioning, and I was just not my normal, capable self,” they say. Aidan began eating disorder treatment in January 2020 but has continued to struggle.

“I can’t say Noom is responsible for my eating disorder all on its own,” they say. But they see the months they spent on Noom as a kind of tipping point — the moment when they shifted out of years of subclinical disordered eating into a full-blown eating disorder. “A lot of these ‘science-based’ ideas sort of burrowed into my brain,” Aidan says. “Two years later, I’m still trying to get away from them.”


When I download Noom to my own phone, I’m greeted by a sunshine icon and a question: “How much weight do you want to lose?” The app asks me to pick a “weight loss speed”: turtle, rabbit or cheetah. Next, I fill in my gender, age, height, and starting weight, then answer a series of questions. Do I eat sandwiches or salads for lunch? How often do I eat per day? The app begins to calculate when I can expect to reach my “target weight,” and as I answer more questions, it lowers the date, putting my new body and life increasingly within reach. “There are no good and bad foods!” it promises. “And if you mess up, that’s okay! You’re in good hands.” After all, the app tells me: “You’re not alone, we’ve helped 1,534,304 people successful lose weight.” As I look at the screen, that number climbs: 1,534,308, then 1,543,315. By the time I finish typing this sentence, it’s up to 1,534,353. How are all these people losing weight so fast? (1,534,384.) Because Noom is going to create my “personalized plan,” which is not a restrictive diet, the app emphasizes repeatedly. On a screen titled “why restrictive diets fail,” I learn that 73% of dieters experience at least one weight-cycling episode, according to a 2019 study of nearly 500 women, and that these “yo-yo” cycles increase diabetes risk and “amounts of belly fat,” according to the Mayo Clinic. So how does Noom achieve weight loss without these risks? “Simply believe!” the app tells me.

Also: Plan to spend a few minutes each day reading a lesson on how to change my eating and exercise habits. Lesson No. 3, for example, explains the importance of choosing foods with lower caloric density, like hardboiled eggs instead of fried. Along with these lessons on “the psychology of weight loss,” the app encourages me to log my weight, exercise, water consumption, blood pressure, and blood glucose daily, along with everything I eat. And it gives a daily calorie budget; to lose weight at a “cheetah” pace, I’m told to eat 1,200 calories a day. By the time I finish logging my breakfast and morning snack (a smoothie, followed by a bagel with peanut butter and a banana), I have… exactly 34 calories left.

This is the first thing to know about Noom, and something that every former user I spoke with — even those who more or less liked the app — told me right away: Noom is not a lifestyle change. It’s a dieter’s diet. “They put you on 1,200 calories a day and tell you to eat mostly vegetables,” Sarah MacDonald, a 31-year-old swimming coach in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who began using Noom in 2014. “So, you’re basically shitting yourself constantly and you lose 5 pounds in the first two weeks.”

She’s now deleted and redownloaded the app more times than she can count; each time, the initial weight loss is quickly followed by a plateau as the diet becomes increasingly difficult to live with. The longest she’s ever lasted is four months, but more often she drops out after four to six weeks. “In the beginning, I’d re-join pretty frequently because I’d think, ‘Well, I just didn’t work hard enough last…


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