If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you might know that I’ve done lots of research into Noom. It’s a popular “wellness” app that aggressively markets itself as anti-diet, while also marketing itself as a great way to lose weight. In recent weeks, I’ve heard from many people who signed up for Noom as part of their eating disorder recovery.
Right off the bat, you might realize how problematic this is. An anti-diet weight loss app is an oxymoron — because remember, a big part of being anti-diet is respecting and accepting your body (and others) as it is. Predictably, Noom “borrows” lots of intuitive eating language to sell themselves. They talk about tuning into your hunger and fullness, letting go of food guilt, understanding that all foods fit, and eating mindfully. They even have a slide in their welcome sequence that talks about why restrictive dieting is harmful and unsustainable.
Before we get into it, I have a favor to ask: Forward this email to someone who might benefit from reading it. Diets like Noom are so predatory, and everyone deserves to know that.
Noom is a diet!
Basically, Noom draws you in with all of this great-sounding messaging about how it’s not a diet, and how it’s perfect for people who are sick of trying diets that don’t work. Their marketing really leans into phrases like “evidence-based” and “psychology-based,” which makes it seem super legit and revolutionary.
When you sign up for the free trial, they have you answer all of these questions about yourself, your body, dieting history, motivations, challenges, personality, and more. (That’s important information! Therapists and dietitians typically ask similar questions to onboard a new client.) Then, they ask you for your weight loss goal, and give you a supposedly evidence-based timeline for how long it will take you to achieve it. It really seems so personalized and holistic. They also have short lessons about things like mindfulness and behavior change.
And, then, GET THIS. On day 2 of the free trial, they hit you with a daily calorie goal and ask you to start tracking everything you eat and logging all of your daily exercise. JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER APP OUT THERE.
But wait, there’s more. They give the same calorie goal to practically everyone.
Before I started this research, a few people had mentioned that Noom gave them an incredibly low calorie goal. I was surprised to see that they gave me the exact same (incredibly low) target during my (just for research!) free trial. So, I asked people on Instagram and Twitter to share their Noom experiences with me.
For the past week, I have been flooded with messages from hundreds of women. All but three of them told me that they received the exact same (incredibly low) daily calorie goal. Four women shared that they were breastfeeding when they downloaded Noom (if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and reading this, please stay away from Noom and other diets!). All said that they asked their personal “Noom coach” (someone who goes through a weeklong training but has no health credentials or experience) whether to eat more during breastfeeding, and that their coach said no. This is wildly inaccurate and goes against all evidence; you need significantly more food when you’re breastfeeding.
What really gets me is how they intentionally target people in eating disorder recovery, even though Noom is so triggering and harmful for these folks.
Here’s another thing that many, many of the people who reached out to me had in common: They were in recovery from an eating disorder, and thought Noom would help them.
This is absolutely not the case, but it’s a very reasonable assumption. Noom promises that it’s sustainable, and says that it’s not a diet (even though it’s literally just a low-calorie diet). And, here’s the real trick: Noom promises food freedom and weight loss.
I know that most people in recovery from an eating disorder are familiar with intuitive eating. ED clinicians recommend it as part of the recovery process. I also know that the idea of accepting your body and not trying to lose or maintain weight is incredibly scary for people who are trying to recover from an eating disorder (and to others!). Many people in recovery (and again, many people in general) love the sound of feeling relaxed around food and not stressing about weight, but still want to lose weight or prevent weight gain. The truth is that you really can’t have it both ways, especially if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder. Accepting that is a tough process, but it’s possible if you do the work.
Diets that promise food freedom and weight loss completely derail that work, keeping you stuck in disordered patterns.
(I recently spoke with psychologist Alexis Conoson about this, and can’t wait to share her thoughts in an upcoming Outside column.) They lie to you, saying that you can make peace with food by restricting it. (It’s not just Noom — the founder of Whole30 says often that regular Whole30s have helped her recover. But, following such a restrictive diet is textbook disordered behavior and absolutely not what eating disorder recovery looks like.) They tell you that it is possible to have your cake and eat it, too. It’s an enticing message! But in reality, it causes so much harm.
You deserve full eating disorder recovery.
I know this doesn’t apply to everyone reading this. But many of you are in recovery, and you need to hear this. You deserve full eating disorder recovery. If you’ve tried Noom, Whole30, “clean eating”, macro tracking or another type of diet in the past, thinking it would help you make peace with food, that’s OK! I’ve been there, too. You’re not dumb because you fell for their tricks — they’re marketing directly to you, and they’re good at telling you exactly what you need to hear.
And, you’re not a failure if you’re tried all those things and still struggle with disordered eating. The fact that you’re still struggling is to be expected! All of those things are disordered and will almost certainly exacerbate your old eating disorder thoughts. Remember: Restriction almost always leads to bingeing and feeling out of control, even if it feels good for a while.
It’s never too late to quit dieting and start on your intuitive eating journey.
If I’m being honest, it took me a few years of playing around with different “it’s not a diet” diets early in my eating disorder recovery before I finally accepted that they were bullshit and decided to try intuitive eating for real. Again, I don’t think that’s wrong — I think that’s common and very understandable.
If anything, this makes me more certain that intuitive eating is the only way to really overcome an eating disorder. You can’t “find balance” through a structured diet and exercise routine when you’re in recovery. Doing that means you’re letting your eating disorder continue to rule your thoughts. Even if you’re behaviors aren’t *technically* as disordered as they were before. If you want to be free of those disordered thoughts, you must work through the discomfort of body acceptance. You have to face your demons. When your old eating disorder tells you that Noom (or any diet) is safe and a great idea? You have to (metaphorically) look it in the eye and say, “No.”
It’s OK to admit that you’re struggling in eating disorder recovery and reach out for help.
Again, you’re not a failure because you thought a diet might help your recovery. You’re just a person who bought into some really great marketing.
Diets have no place in eating disorder recovery. They only reinforce disordered behaviors.
Don’t buy into diets that promise food peace. That’s a lie. Instead, trust that you have it in you to become a true intuitive eater. It’s possible, even if you’ve been struggling through eating disorder recovery or disordered eating for years. And if you need some help, I’m here for you.