Using Noom while Mental Healthing: a cautionary tale.

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CW: diet culture, eating disorders, weight loss, eating habits

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I was tracking what I ate down to the grape. I was cutting tacos in half and googling the specific caloric content of different beer varieties to stay within my limit for the day. I was exhausted, stressed, and the thinnest I’d been since high-school. I was, according to the program, succeeding nearly perfectly in my weight loss goals. Religious calorie counting and fitness tracking on the dieting app Noom had taken me down to my goal weight.


I was not, however, thriving.


What is Noom?


For non-Noomers not in the know (alliteration yahoo), Noom is a weight loss and caloric tracking app with a focus on the psychology of overeating and diet culture. It aims to help people lose weight by daily weigh ins, educational modules on nutrition, recipes, access to a team of other “Noomers” and one on one digital interactions with a coach.


It’s been about a year since I started on my Noom journey and I readily admit there are habits from the app that I have kept (drinking water before meals, having a pedometer to track steps, I love my pedometer!) For the most part however, I look back on my Noom experience negatively and this is what I want to share with my fellow general anxiety/OCD friends. This app can do more harm than good if your mental health can be easily derailed by a lack of energy and pressure to reach unrealistic restrictions.



Where I was before.


I came into the program as a semi active gym-going 27 year old looking to lose 14lbs. My goal weight was 126lbs and I wanted to teach myself some good habits I could carry forward into my 30's and beyond. I ate healthily but my portion sizes were out of control and I would very often eat emotionally and socially beyond the needs of my body. I was eager and willing to commit to a new program and to get my habits under control. I had had enough with feeling "gross." Did I mention how unkind to myself I was being?


The Honeymoon.


After the instagram ads wore me down and a friend said she was going to try it, I settled on Noom. I had reached a point I would call my weight rock bottom: I was two years after a break up and realized the habits I chose now would follow me into my 30’s. I have always wanted to be stronger.


Based on my experience, Noom is not meant for people that are physically active and have a basic understanding of nutrition. This app is (in my opinion) geared towards women in their mid 30’s and 40’s who look in the mirror and see someone they don’t recognize. I disagree with this. And most weight loss philosophies. If you’re healthy, you’re healthy and scales don’t determine health. But that’s where Noom is brilliant. It’s rhetoric is welcoming, friendly, psychologically geared to not scare anyone away. But don’t be fooled. A diet is a diet is a diet is a diet is a diet.


I would recommend Noom to someone who wants to learn more about the psychology behind eating habits and pressures. The articles on these subjects did show me things I hadn’t previously noticed about myself in terms of binge eating and social influencers in food consumption. This was really educational and valuable. I don’t know however, if you need the app to look up books about psychological eating practices. I believe there are many such materials online or via a book store.


The main issue I have with Noom is its caloric calculator and the lack of insight it actually has body to body. I am a 5’3”, semi-athletic build with more muscle than you would expect from someone my size. In Noom I was given a 1200 calorie allowance per day. I struggled at first because honestly, it’s REALLY hard to eat 1200 calories in a day and not go over, but after a few weeks of struggling to learn new meal ideas I got into a rhythm of oatmeal for breakfast, soups at lunch and steamed veggies, a whole wheat grain and a protein for dinner.


Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? It did teach me how my portion sizes previously were way off the mark: I was eating enough for a me that ran half marathons every week. Since Noom I have scaled back my meal sizes. I eat slower. I enjoy the food. I will often stop eating when I’m not entirely full to let my stomach catch up. I also now love me some steamed veggies. Steamed broccoli with salt and pepper is easily one of my favourite sides now. That’s a good aspect Noom left me with.


But 1200 calories even with added days of higher counts from exercise eventually took its toll on my emotional well being. The obsessiveness of calorie counting was detrimental to my mental health. The stress of over eating or having a “bad day” ultimately slowly walked me towards the idea that throwing up my food after I ate actually wasn’t such a bad plan. Then I could eat whatever I wanted without repercussions on the scale.


The Scale


Oh the scale. I will come right out and say that I am not a total scale hater. I think whatever health or fitness regime brings you joy and results (be those loss, stasis or gain) is a good for you kind of moment. In Noom a main caveat of the program is you have to weigh yourself every day.


I enjoyed it to start: I’m a fan of data. Seeing pounds slowly fall off during the program was beneficial to my overall positivity. But the thing is that if you step on a scale and it slides backwards you have to have the emotional capacity to understand that you could still feel great even if the results aren’t what you wanted. Noom does not teach you this.


When I reached 130lbs and eventually passed it, I did not celebrate: I didn't even notice. I looked great, I’m sure (I looked and could have felt fabulous at 142lbs FYI.) I was on the hamster wheel just going and going towards the goal that I had decided was “enough.” This is why I believe nutritional and dietary changes need a guide that goes beyond an app. You need a teammate that can see you in real time and emotionally check in with you. You need help to see the forest beyond the trees.


“But wait!” you say, “Doesn’t Noom have coaches that guide you along the way?” Yes, indeed they do. And I will say they do their best, but I honestly don’t know the credentials of these coaches. I don’t believe they are trained nutritionists and I for one now know and understand that asking someone of my physical muscle mass and ability and mental health history to eat as little as 1200 calories a day is absolutely unsound. There’s no way that an online coach could ascertain that via an app, with or without nutritional qualifications which is the failure of technology in dealing with real life health situations.


Going Forward


It is elitist to expect everyone to have access to a nutritionist, and in so far as operating as a replacement for that experience, I believe Noom does a fairly comprehensive job of educating its users on the psychology behind eating. But I would advise anyone who is going into Noom to do the following:


1. Consult multiple sources before committing to the suggested caloric count. Even consulting macro-calculators online to get a more broad view is helpful. Additionally, if you are told to be consuming WAY less than you currently consume, I wouldn't go zero to sixty again. Slowly scale it back. An improvement to the Noom system could be a layered approach to reducing calorie intake, not guiding you to cut to the “right” on day 1. To “succeed”, you need to learn slowly and no one thrives in a dessert.


2. Seriously consider your mental health as a part of the program. Do you have the time and energy to manage all the emotional highs and lows of a severe caloric reduction? Are you able to differentiate between obsessive habits and healthy ones? I remember every morning reaching down and pinching the fat on my belly to make sure there was less than yesterday. I remember checking my stomach in the mirror every morning before getting dressed. I remember being the thinnest I had ever been and feeling like it wasn’t enough. I remember being hungry even with all the Noom tricks up my sleeves (water and grapes aren't enough.) Consider saving up before doing Noom so you can have an emotional support team member like a therapist to help you. A health regime that damages your health is pure lunacy.


In Conclusion


I would not recommend Noom to someone without clearly outlining the potentially damaging effects of the app on someone with an already present anxiety disorder. I was so close to developing an eating disorder that when I googled my habits before I quit the app, they actually qualified. I wouldn’t say I fully developed one because I was able to cancel my account and turn towards a more intuitive path.


But maybe someone with less experience with mental gymnastics than me (OCD trains you well) could have slipped down into a far worse situation than merely looking in the mirror and being dissatisfied.


So I’ll ask you this: is your physical health worth your mental health?


For me the answer is a confident and hard-earned fuck no.










*** This article was written in 2019 and I have not since been a part of Noom. Maybe they've changed stuff? I dunno, but a diet is a diet is a diet is a diet.


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