How Noom Targets People in Eating Disorder Recovery

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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.

A quick note: If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, working with a therapist and a registered dietitian can help you recover far more quickly than you would on your own. To learn more about my nutrition counseling services for eating disorders and disordered eating, go here.

This article originally appeared in my Quit Your Diet Newsletter. To get more like this each week, subscribe below:

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 whether to eat more during breastfeeding, and that their coach said no. (A Noom coach goes through a weeklong training but probably doesn’t have any health credentials or experience.) This is wildly inaccurate and goes against all evidence. You need significantly more food when you’re breastfeeding. Telling breastfeeding women to diet is negligent and harmful.

What really gets about Noom is that they market specifically to people in eating disorder recovery.

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. I’ve even heard from a few eating disorder therapists who say their clients ask about Noom. They say that it sounds a lot like the eating disorder recovery work they’re doing.

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.

Noom has literally paid to be the first Google search result (an ad) for “intuitive eating.”

Most people in recovery from an eating disorder are familiar with intuitive eating. ED clinicians recommend it as part of the recovery process. AND at the same time, many in early stages of recovery find the idea body acceptance and food freedom incredibly scary. They want a peaceful relationship with food. BUT, they still want to lose weight or prevent weight gain. They’re stuck between these two worlds.

Which is why it’s so incredibly frustrating that Noom intentionally misrepresents itself as an intuitive eating framework. If you have any doubt that they do this with their marketing language, the proof lies in the fact that they pay to be the top Google search result for “intuitive eating.” That’s sketchy as all get-out, and really, really harmful. They’re intentionally making it difficult for someone looking for food peace to actually find it.

The truth is that you can’t actually find food freedom while trying to lose weight. Especially if you’re in recovery from an eating disorder. It’s hard to accept this, but it’s possible if you do the work.

Except, Noom lies to you and tells you that you can have it both ways — food freedom and effortless weight loss! What actually happens is you keep on dieting and hating your body. And of course, that weight loss never comes.

Diets that promise food freedom and weight loss keep you stuck in disordered patterns.

You can’t make peace with food by restricting it. Restriction ultimately leads to binge eating for most people. If you have a history of a restrictive eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or OSFED, restriction might reignite disordered thoughts. And if you struggle with orthorexia, Noom’s stoplight system can trigger “good” and “bad” thoughts about food.

Whole30 is another huge offender here, which I write about in detail in this post.

To be clear, it’s not just Noom that targets people in eating disorder recovery. The founder of Whole30 often says that regular Whole30s have helped her recover. Wellness influencers claim that things like macro counting and “clean eating” helped them to heal.

This is SUCH bullshit. Following such a restrictive diet is textbook disordered behavior and absolutely not what eating disorder recovery looks like. It’s just more of the same disordered behavior.



If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, steer clear of Noom.

You deserve full eating disorder recovery. If you’ve tried Noom or another 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 marketing tricks. They’re really, really good at telling you exactly what you need to hear.

And if you’ve been in recovery for years but still struggle? You’re not a failure. That struggle is common! It’s tough to recover, because we all live in diet culture. Predatory programs like the Noom diet are everywhere. There are so many people trying to profit from your insecurities. And there are so many messages out there that make body acceptance and food peace difficult.

Just 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.

In the first few years my own recovery, I tried several “it’s not a diet” diets. It took a while before I accepted that they were bullshit and committed to intuitive eating. Again, I don’t think that’s failure — I think that’s common and very understandable.

But this just makes me more certain that intuitive eating is the only way to truly recover. You can’t “find balance” through a structured diet and exercise routine. 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. Plus, it typically takes many years to recover from an eating disorder. So there’s no shame in struggling.

But 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.

If you’re struggling with eating disorder recovery, disordered eating, or chronic dieting, nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian can help. Learn more about my in-person nutrition counseling in Raleigh, NC, or my virtual nutrition counseling offered to clients in 24 states.


Tired of falling for bullshit diet and wellness advice?

Subscribe to the weekly Quit Your Diet newsletter. I thoroughly debunk terrible wellness trends (think: Noom, detox teas, Whole30, and 75 Hard) and talk about what we can do to keep ourselves well instead.


You might also like:

Whole30 and Its Junk Science Won’t Lead to Food Freedom

How to Eat Intuitively When You Don’t Trust Your Intuition

How to Stop Binge Eating Without Restricting Yourself

The Free QUIT YOUR DIET 3-Day Jumpstart


Free Intuitive Eating Course

Looking for a free intuitive eating course? Whether you’re new to the anti-diet approach or you’ve been trying to work towards intuitive eating for a while, our 5-Day Intuitive Eating Starter Course is a great start for anyone who’s tired of obsessing over “wellness” and constantly struggling with food and body acceptance.

8 Comments

    • Donna Rubin

      Have you done an article on Weight Watchers?
      I was a member for decades. I did lose a lot of weigh and have maintained it for 4 years. I was ok with tracking, measuring and weighing my food but I was tired of letting the number on the scale dictate my mood so somebody introduced me to intuitive eating. I’m on my second week of not tracking and it’s a little scary.

      Reply
  1. Susan

    I absolutely love noom. I disagree with many of your comments. It’s changed my life for the better. It would be good to see the things you say backed up with evidence, or if it’s your own opinion or not. This could work and help so many people become stronger and more in touch with themselves in more ways than just eating. I’m curious, how long did you do the noom course for? Or was it just the 2 week free trial? I’m 5 months in and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, I’ve completely 360 my relationship with food. And I eat anything and everything! Just feel like you need to give both sides of the story in your article. There’s so much support on noom. They don’t claim to be dieticians and wouldn’t dream of advising me about that. It’s all good vibes and positivity. Anyways, it’s always good to make you’re own mind up. We all can think for ourselves 😉 peace

    Reply
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  5. Ryan

    I’ve been using Noom for 5 months now and effectively lost 30 pounds! I did notice that the recommended calorie restrictions were too low in the beginning, and so I adjusted my goals in the SETTINGS to coincide with the suggestions of my real life dietician who is also overseeing my progress regularly. I mainly use Noom for the ease of food and exercise logging which helps me to create an awareness of my eating habits, which in turn leads to intuitive eating… I like the lessons about low calorie dense foods and satiety. By changing what I eat, I can actually feel fuller eating less; and Noom absolutely encourages the occasional treats. Basically eat whatever you want, just fit it into the color coded categories…. if I have a piece of cake at lunch, I have a green salad for dinner!

    Reply

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