How Noom and WW sell mindfulness as a way to lose weight

Final December, Stephen Snowder, a 37-year-old communications staffer at a white-shoe regulation agency in New York, Googled “pandemic weight achieve.” He’d stopped jogging and had indulged in comforting Grubhub meals whereas quarantining. He wished to match into his 2019 garments once more.

As he discovered himself sifting by details about varied weight-loss firms and applications on-line, one slogan caught his eye: “Cease Weight-reduction plan. Get Lifelong Outcomes.” An app—referred to as Noom—promised to use psychology to assist “construct new habits to crush your targets.” The corporate’s web site described how he’d be paired with a wellness coach and obtain brief classes and quizzes primarily based on cognitive behavioral remedy strategies. Crucially, the app stated he may eat something he wished. Noom advertisements quickly flooded Snowder’s Instagram feed. He signed on.

The American Psychological Affiliation reviews that the 42% of People who gained weight between March 2020 and February 2021 added a median of 29 kilos to their frames. Folks are actually wanting to shed that weight. The marketplace for weight-loss merchandise is increasing, estimated to develop from practically $255 billion globally this 12 months to $377 billion by 2026, in accordance to analytics agency Analysis and Markets. Maybe no firm is capitalizing on this higher than Noom, which is valued at $4 billion and has raised greater than $650 million from traders, such as Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake. Launched in 2016, the corporate’s app has been downloaded some 45 million instances; Noom says it practically doubled annual income between 2019 and 2020, reaching $400 million.


With its emphasis on wellness over weight loss—a message that it disseminates by social media advertisements and influencer advertising—Noom has been driving the wave of physique positivity to attraction to folks searching for a extra holistic way to shed kilos. It’s not alone: In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded to WW, partly to broaden its attraction. “There’s way more to it than simply weight loss,” says Debra Benovitz, WW’s senior vp of “human truths and group impacts.” “We hear a lot that [people] come for weight loss, however discover wellness.” (The rebranding hasn’t been fully profitable. Although WW is gaining floor with digital subscribers, the corporate’s income dropped 10% 12 months over 12 months within the second quarter of 2021.) Newer entrants embrace weight-care startup Discovered, which simply got here out of stealth and is backed by enterprise capital corporations GV and Atomic. It gives digital teaching and assist teams, as effectively as telemedicine consultations with physicians who can prescribe weight-loss remedy.

However even as they champion a psychosocial method to more healthy habits, Noom and different on-line teaching applications are nonetheless targeted on getting folks to drop kilos by chopping meals consumption—the identical method that’s outlined weight loss since counting energy got here into vogue within the Twenties. “Intuitive consuming and the anti-diet motion have turn out to be fashionable,” says Alexis Conason, a scientific psychologist, eating-disorder specialist, and creator of The Weight loss program-Free Revolution. “Weight-loss firms try to get on that bandwagon by claiming that they aren’t weight loss program firms, when they’re.”

Noom’s ascendancy comes at a time when celebrities and firms alike are spreading the message of physique positivity and weight inclusivity—of loving your self the way you might be. At the moment’s weight-loss firms have figured that out. Gone are fat-shaming advertisements that includes folks holding their pre-weight-loss pair of denims. Noom’s advertising talks of each day doses of self-care and being the boss of your individual life. The app encourages customers to change their relationship with meals by setting targets, figuring out emotional triggers associated to consuming, and (sure) holding themselves accountable by logging what they eat and weigh every day.

WW is taking a related method. Final fall, it launched myWW+, a personalised app-based program that mixes meal-planning instruments with options that sort out weight loss by sleep, mindset, and bodily exercise. “We’re a behavior-change firm, and weight is an finish level,” chief scientific officer Gary Foster is fond of claiming. Discovered tries to thread the needle the identical way. “That is holistic. It’s not nearly what you lose, it’s what you discover alongside the way,” says cofounder and chief working officer Swathy Prithivi. In different phrases, by promising to rework customers’ existence (fairly than simply their our bodies), firms stay on the proper aspect of the body-positivity motion.

Clients, in the meantime, have to pay—often. Noom’s subscriptions begin at a month-to-month value of round $65, whereas WW’s digital membership begins at $21.95 a month. Discovered prices a median of $100 a month, together with medicines. Every year, practically half of all American adults weight loss program. Solely 5% of them efficiently hold the weight off. Weight-loss companies revenue regardless.

As a lot as these firms attempt to distance themselves from the concept of imposing calorie restrictions, that’s in the end what they’re promoting. When Snowder began utilizing Noom, he was advised he may eat any meals he wished—as lengthy as he stayed inside a restrict of 1,400 energy a day, or a little greater than half the advisable calorie consumption for a grown man, in accordance to the U.S. Division of Agriculture. Over at WW, customers are not requested to rely energy particularly, however they’re given daily-point targets, with every meals portion assigned a quantity primarily based on calorie rely and dietary worth. Discovered and Calibrate, one other telehealth startup, each provide physician consultations and prescription medicines. However even they find yourself on the similar place: meal logging and restrictive diets (albeit ones overseen by physicians).

The issue will not be that these firms depend on weight-reduction plan to get folks to meet their targets. It’s that the wellness-centric advertising that they’ve embraced will be deceptive—and worse. Conason and different eating-disorder consultants be aware that Noom has co-opted the language of eating-disorder restoration, utilizing phrases like “conscious consuming” and “anti-diet.”


“That advertising sucks folks in who is perhaps searching for one thing completely different than a conventional weight loss program,” says Christy Harrison, a dietitian, licensed eating-disorder specialist, and creator of Anti-Weight loss program: Reclaim Your Time, Cash, Properly-Being, and Happiness By means of Intuitive Consuming. “Folks get seduced after they’re weak and usually don’t notice how dangerous it’s till it’s too late.”

On the similar time, Noom’s advisable practices, such as calorie counting, meals restriction, and weighing your self, can encourage consuming issues. “Apps like Noom and WW’s have a tendency to focus on weight loss program tradition, and that may be actually dangerous for these susceptible to an consuming dysfunction,” says Lauren Smolar, senior director of applications on the Nationwide Consuming Issues Affiliation. (Noom says it screens out folks with unhealthy weight targets or indicators of consuming issues.) “It’s calorie counting, each day weighing…it’s weight-reduction plan. They will name it no matter they need however in the end it’s nonetheless a weight loss program,” says Shira Rosenbluth, a social employee who makes a speciality of working with folks with disordered consuming and physique picture points. “The way they market and the way Noom works is extremely harmful and dangerous for anybody attempting to have a relationship with meals and their physique,” she provides.

Although Noom entices clients with the promise of utilizing a goal-oriented psychotherapy program, the corporate’s coaches aren’t licensed therapists or nutritionists. As a substitute, they undergo 75 hours of “Noomiversity,” which gives well being courses as effectively as motivational coaching. Coaches reportedly might then be assigned tons of of purchasers at a time. Conason says there are parts of this method that could possibly be useful, however the potential for hurt “far outweighs the profit.” Noom, nonetheless, is simply getting began. In October, the corporate launched Noom Temper, a program to assist folks address stress and nervousness by utilizing mood-logging instruments related to its food-logging ones.

5 months into his Noom weight loss program, Snowder discovered himself always hungry. He reached out to his coach for recommendation after consuming greater than his allotted energy. “She steered that what was lacking in my life was vitality,” he remembers. “She additionally stated that I shouldn’t really feel discouraged after I look within the mirror and I don’t like what I see.” The factor is: He had by no means talked about feeling upset by his look.

Weeks later, she despatched him a GIF of Brad Pitt cheering, from the film Burn After Studying, to congratulate him on finishing 20 classes. Shortly afterward, Snowder went to go to his in-laws. He stopped logging his meals, not wanting to ask them about each ingredient in each dish. Then he stop Noom altogether. He determined to benefit from the household time, and savor the meals.