72% of Americans are overweight. Maybe. That stat sounds right to me but I didn’t check it out anywhere.
If you are an adult in any country gaining 2 pounds of weight per year, you have probably tried to use a weight loss app. Our phones have reprogrammed so many of the ways we think, why can’t they reprogram the way we think about food?
I’ve used two of the most popular and most advertised weight loss apps for months to years. Here’s what I would want to know if I were you (or if I were past me):
1. It’s all about psychology, baby (and food density)
Noom is the weight loss app associated with using psychology to lose weight. I know this because they advertise that part heavily (not a weight joke). They employ psychologists. A lot, apparently. And they are going to remind you, constantly.
This is the draw, and what separates Noom from a more simple calorie counter. Though Noom is also a simple calorie counter. The hook in the Noom calorie counter is that, instead of say, macros, you stay under your calorie goal and also within the food density limits.
See, food density is something Noom believes matters. If you get 150 calories from soup, Noom says, that’s better overall than 150 calories from peanut butter, because soup is less dense. Thus, soup makes you feel more full.
This is the complete opposite of most food writing I’ve seen. Usually, you eat nutritionally dense foods, within your calorie limit, to feel satiated and full. Noom argues lower density food fills your stomach more per calorie, which is both true and great for illustrations of full-versus-empty stomachs they can sketch up.
So, throw out those macros for tracking carbs, protein and fat, and focus on calorie density + calorie count, says Noom.
2. Get ready to read
They aren’t paying all those psychologists to just think, they are paying them to write. A lot.
You are presented with 10-20 minutes of course content each day. It’s humorous. Thoughtful. And kind of a lot. There’s 101, 201, 301 and so on courses on nutrition, fitness, and the thinking you’ll do.
This course content is one of the main draws of Noom. You can get a good calorie counter elsewhere. This is the exclusive content. Train your brain by reading.
3. You’ve got a coach, I guess?
When you join Noom you get a little AI helper that may or may not have a real person behind the chat interface. They are there to help you with questions about using Noom.
Later though, you get an actual coach, if you want. You can also decline the coach. I declined the coach.
I’ve read that if you accept the coach’s offer, they check in on you and ask you questions. Some people think the coaches are AI programs talking with you. I’m not sure there’s any way to know for sure.
I’ve had a monthly coaching call with a dietician before from my health insurance. It was motivating and I wanted to impress my coach each month with my progress. But then, once my coaching sessions were up, all the motivation and gains were gone. The human connection helped, but once it was over it was over.
Is this what therapy is like?
Anyway, eager to not get the high of a coach and the low of losing access to the coach eventually, I pressed on without. The feature may be helpful to others.
4. Be a team player
Here’s another differentiator that may work for you or be a complete disaster. You are put into a group with a Noom moderator. You are encouraged to work together, encourage each other, post your workout stats, etc. The moderator will stir up discussion and compliment progress.
This is neat, but it was just one more chat room I had to keep up with in my life. Once I turned off all the notifications, things were better as I could self-serve that “content” and participate when I wanted.
However, there was a group migration gone wrong and I lost access to my group. See, people will drop off the program, and once-large groups have to merge. Or moderators quit working at Noom, maybe, and so you get a new moderator and get to introduce yourself again (no thanks).
I got dropped in a group merge. I’d get prompted by the daily reading content to “share my thoughts with the group”, but then get a message that said “we are still adding you to a group, stay tuned!”. I didn’t file a support ticket. I was happy for the quiet.
5. NOOM COINS
Noom wants you to do 3 things each day: weigh yourself, track all your meals, and read your daily content.
If you do all three, you get a “Noom Coin”. I was stoked to get my first one. Do you remember the prize counter at the famous Charles Entertainment Cheese establishments? (That’s Chuck E. Cheese for those of you who are getting a little too casual with the third-most famous mouse in entertainment. Put some respect on his name.)
Yeah, there is no prize counter in Noom. You can’t turn in Noom Coins for Noom swag, which is a crying shame. What a missed opportunity. The psychology is all there! EARN THE COINS GET THE STUFF.
When I stopped using Noom I had over 70 Noom Coins. I’m proud of those coins.
6. The end of the journey
Despite it’s price, which we will get to shortly, Noom has a surprising end-game strategy. As a SaaS company, I would expect they’d want to keep my subscription going until I die.
To their credit, Noom writes in their course content that they are training you (and your brain) to recognize good eating habits without using their app. They have weeks of testing you to do things without the app.
Skip logging a meal. Skill logging for a day. Stop measuring food and see how it feels. Skip some lessons. They outright say “we don’t want you here after the end of the program”. They want you, they say, to graduate.
Are they doing reverse psychology? Hard to know, but I do think it’s intellectually honest of them, and at least it is interesting to take that strategy.
7. They’ve earned this
All those psychologies, moderators, coaches, writers, and whoever else at Noom need to get paid. You are going to pay them a lot of money. I think the highest cost I’ve seen for Noom is $45 a month or $199 for the year, right from the Apple App Store. That’s shocking to me.
However, if you go through their website, it’s far less. Still more than Netflix monthly, but what’s the cost of your health? Is the high price part of the psychology? People do value things more that have a high cost.
Pro-tip: go through their web sign-up form for a free trial, but abandon the cart before you finish signing up. Noom hit me with a 50% coupon after a few days. This may not work forever, but the company that prides itself on using psychology has “cart abandonment” strategies that may work in your favor.
The biggest difference you’ll notice in MyFitnessPal (furthermore MFP because, gosh, writing MyFitnessPal in camel-case is tiring) is that you can just start. Free. No long introduction checking your psychological profile. No quiz about how you felt about food when you were a kid.
You just…sign up. Put in your vitals and it spits out a calorie goal for the day. Then you start logging your food.
The next thing you’ll notice is that there are ads. These are unobtrusive, but they are there. Going to premium, currently about $80 a year on discount via the Apple store, will drop the ads and add a bunch more goodies.
First is the unlocked macros. If you track calories long enough, you start to realize that certain calories from protein, fat, and carbs fill you up differently. MFP puts this info behind the premium subscription. Also shown with premium are salt, cholesterol, and sugar counts. You can set custom goals for these based on your preferences or with the help of your dietician.
There’s also the plans – MFP premium allows you to choose fitness and meal plans, which we will get to later.
You get a lot with free MFP. I used the free version of MFP on the web and phone app for years. It’s really good on its own, and that’s because of the next thing – the database.
2. The d a t a b a s e
MFP sports what I think is the biggest and most accurate food database on the internet. There are seemingly tens of thousands of “verified” items from your favorite restaurants, and grocery store, and the rest are crowd-sourced from however many millions of people using MFP.
There’s not just “tacos” in the database, though MFP will give you a generic taco with average carbs, fat, and protein. There’s also verified tacos to select by choosing “Taco Bell Beef Taco”, “Kroger Pulled Pork Taco”, or “Tyson Frozen Chicken Taco”.
You can scan the labels of your food and nearly always get the right result.
You can snap a picture of your food and it will give you a pretty good guess of what it is, how much of it there is, etc.
The database in MFP is the fastest, most accurate I’ve tried. It is the killer feature. You know what you are eating and entering into your calorie counter with MFP.
3. The best laid plans
The newest premium feature I’ve noticed since returning to MFP is all the plans available.
I started a 28-day walking plan. Each day, you have tasks, such as “walk 3,000 steps”, “read this article about walking and health”, etc. The program will have you thinking about walking more and challenging you to walk each day until you are walking 6,000 steps per day by day 28. There’s also a plan to get you to 9.000 steps.
There are fitness plans that have video content that you follow along with. It’s not like the Peloton app, with live instructors, but it’s more structured than just clicking on YouTube fitness videos, and it’s built into the app.
There are also nutritional plans. Plans to get you eating more greens. Plans to get you cooking more. Meal plans, recipe plans, healthy eating plans.
The Plans are a choose-your-own-adventure, in contrast to Noom’s very guided plans.
Let’s log this popsicle stand and go home (e.g. conclusion)
You get to customize MFP the way you want – from macros, to meal and exercise plans, either free or paid (though most of the customization is behind the paid premium subscription). This can be daunting to a newbie, but newbies are probably using the free, ad-supported version of the MFP app. For them, it’s just easy calorie tracking with the best food entry database I’ve seen (the Noom database is serviceable).
Noom is the guiding hand. Come along with your favorite group of witty psychologists, coaches, and group members, and earn some Noom Coins. You don’t have to think super hard about what to do once you decide to plunk down the cash. For those of you looking for the guided tour, Noom is it.
If you’ve been on the fence about starting to track calories using an app and don’t know where to start, MFP and Noom are excellent options.
Strapped for cash, or don’t buy into the idea that you’ll need to read a lot and be a part of a group? Just want to get started literally this second? MyFitnessPal.
Looking for a new take on calorie counting? Need a helping hand? Have some cash that you are willing to spend on this adventure? Think you’ll benefit from a coach and a chatty group going through it with you? Noom.
Let me know which you prefer, or if there’s a third option you like.
Thanks for reading.