Kari Dahlgren

Coach | Author | Advocate

feel normal around food again

5 Reasons for Not Losing Weight on Noom — Backed by Science

5 reasons for not losing weight on noom, backed by science

If you’re not losing weight on Noom, you’re not alone. Noom is essentially a calorie-counting approach to weight loss, and strong clinical evidence shows that calorie restriction doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss. Some people may not see any changes in weight at all.

Noom markets themselves as a psychology-based app, but the core mechanics behind weight loss with Noom is calorie counting. They also use a color-coded system to encourage the consumption of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods (“green” foods) and limit the intake of less nutritious and higher calorie foods (“orange” and “red” foods).

You’re about to discover some possible reasons for not losing weight on Noom — all backed by clinical evidence. At the end, I’ll share some tips for making peace with food and reaching your natural weight without the need to count or track calories ever again.

What Noom Does Right

Any weight loss program that requires eating less, restricting calories, and tracking every single thing you eat is unlikely to lead to long-term results. However, before digging into the evidence-based reasons for possibly not losing weight on Noom, I want to give Noom a little credit for being less restrictive than other diets.

Here’s what Noom does right:

  • Acknowledges that Reduced Calories Slows Metabolism: Noom acknowledges that your metabolism slows down with reduced caloric intake.[1], [2] This is a step in the right direction! However, Noom also encourages you to eat less calories, which contradicts this evidence and does not lead to long-term weight loss for most people, and you’ll soon learn why.
  • Sets Reasonable Goals: Noom doesn’t promote rapid weight loss, which I appreciate. While other calorie-counting programs like Weight Watchers also encourage steady weight loss, Noom seems to emphasize this more.
  • Promotes Stress Reduction & Sleep Hygiene: Stress is associated with overeating[3] and poor sleep is associated with hormone changes that increase hunger[4]. Noom recognizes this. However, studies show that calorie counting in itself is stress-inducing[5], which may explain why you’re not losing weight on Noom despite diligently tracking all your meals and snacks.
  • Steps an Inch Closer to Food Neutrality — But Not Nearly Enough: Noom encourages you to limit certain foods in the orange and red categories. While they don’t label them as “bad,” which is a small step in the right direction, there are still rules that perpetuate the moralization of food, which is associated with guilt and disordered eating.[6]

These are a few areas where Noom is a small step in the right direction, but the program still perpetuates unhealthy behaviors around food — all under the umbrella of promoting “better” eating habits. If you’re not losing weight on Noom, it’s not your fault. Let’s explore some evidence-based reasons behind stubborn weight.

Why You’re Not Losing Weight on Noom: Contradicting Science

Noom’s philosophy is to “eat more food with low caloric density.” At first glance, it may seem like a straightforward recipe for weight loss: load up on water-rich foods that are low in calories. This concept — which reminds me of the saying, “buying more, pay less” — is supported by a clinical study shared on Noom’s website, demonstrating substantial weight loss with a diet rich in water-dense foods yet low in calories.[7]

However, this perspective only scratches the surface, neglecting the long-term effects of such dietary habits.

A note on journalism: When I quoted Weight Watchers in my other post on why you’re not losing weight on WW, the company actually took the quote down! So, to prevent that from happening again, I took a snapshot of Noom’s website and archived it in the Wayback Machine.

The body’s natural response to a full stomach is the release of hormones like leptin, signaling satiety and the cessation of eating. In a study published in Physiology & Behavior, researchers explored if this mechanism could be disrupted over time by consistently stretching the stomach.[8]

They simulated stomach stretching in a group of rats while maintaining the same caloric intake as a control group. The results revealed that a regularly stretched stomach led to reduced leptin levels, despite consistent caloric consumption. This biological adaptation could be a potential reason for not losing weight on Noom.

When Noom encourages you to eat water-rich foods to “fill up” and stay within your allotted calories, they fail to account for the highly adaptive nature of the human body. Repeatedly filling up on foods high in volume but low in calories will not outsmart your biology. Rather, it will cause biological adaptations that make you feel hungry even after eating foods predominantly from the “green” (water-rich) category.

If you feel hungry while following your customized Noom program and you’re also not losing weight despite your efforts, this could be why — but that’s not all. Let’s dig into other possible reasons for not losing weight on Noom, all backed by science.

More Evidence-Based Reasons for Not Losing Weight on Noom

Exploring the science behind a lack of results on any weight loss program can help empower you with knowledge. When you know the science behind your struggles, it can help you make informed decisions regarding your health and well-being.

Here are other possible reasons for not losing weight on Noom as per clinical evidence:

Restrictive Dieting Just Doesn’t Work

Just like most weight loss programs, Noom relies on calorie counting, which often fails to sustain results long-term. When calories are restricted, the body’s metabolism slows down as a natural response to conserve energy.[9], [10] While Noom acknowledges this phenomenon, the program still encourages reducing calorie intake — perhaps with a more modest goal than other fad diets.

For individuals who were habitually overeating, slightly restricting calories might lead to initial weight loss. However, it doesn’t fully address the clinical evidence suggesting that weight lost through calorie restriction is often regained.[11], [12], [13]

One study found that one-third to two-thirds of weight lost through calorie restriction is regained within a year, and almost all is regained within five years.[14] Furthermore, about one-third of dieters may end up overshooting their baseline weight, ultimately weighing more than when they started.[14]

This suggests that while calorie reduction can cause initial and even significant weight loss, it is not a sustainable solution for most people in the long run.

Tracking Every Single Thing You Eat Is Stressful

As I mentioned earlier, the act of counting calories has been shown to induce stress and cause the release of stress-related hormones like cortisol.[5] Stress and cortisol are strongly linked with weight gain, not weight loss.[15]

From an evolutionary standpoint, cortisol was beneficial in times of scarcity, as it helped our ancestors store fat for energy during periods of famine. However, when you’re trying to lose weight, high levels of cortisol can lead to unwanted weight gain instead of loss.

The body rigorously tries to defend its set point weight, and when you’re under stress, the body will work hard to prevent weight loss. Even if you don’t gain weight from the stress of counting calories, it could explain why you’re not losing weight on Noom.

Noom’s Weight Loss “Psychology” Isn’t That Deep

Noom often highlights its use of weight loss psychology to help address eating behavior, but most of it merely revolves around the importance of mindful eating. Don’t get me wrong, mindful eating is a healthy eating habit, but it’s not that deep.

For example, Noom references the famous “bottomless bowls” experiment, which demonstrates that our eating habits are heavily influenced by visual cues rather than physical fullness.[16] However, this approach may not delve deep enough into the complexities of eating behavior. Many individuals, including myself, have experienced compulsively eating past the point of fullness, even when starting with a small serving.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever stood in front of the pantry at midnight, compulsively grazing on snacks without the ability to stop? You feel like a floating head because your body is doing one thing (compulsively eating) while your brain is screaming for you to do another thing (stop).

Have you been there before? I certainly have! And mindful eating is not accessible in instances like these. When compulsion is high, even if you want to eat mindfully, you simply can’t. That why, when I state my opinion that Noom isn’t that deep, it’s because they don’t address compulsion; and that could be a significant reason for not losing weight.

Using Colors Doesn’t Negate the Psychological Effects of Food Labels

Noom utilizes a color-coded system, reminiscent of a traffic light, to categorize foods. This approach is a nod towards food neutrality, which is commendable. However, the program still involves labeling and restricting certain foods and overall caloric intake, a strategy that often falls short.

One significant concern is that food labels contribute to the moralization of food, which is associated with feelings of guilt and disordered eating.[6] Research has also shown that making certain foods off-limits can actually increase desire and preoccupation with them.[17], [18], [19] While Noom doesn’t outright ban any foods, the reality is that once your daily calorie allotment is used up, certain foods effectively become off-limits.

It’s important to acknowledge that while categorizing foods can serve as a helpful guide, maintaining a balanced and flexible approach to eating that respects your body’s needs and signals is crucial.

How to Manage Your Weight Without Counting or Tracking

If you’re frustrated by not losing weight on Noom, the good news is that you don’t need to count calories for the rest of your life in order to maintain your weight. In fact, you can stop dieting altogether and experience greater weight stability. Studies have shown that intuitive eaters actually have a more stable weight than dieters — and they also have better psychological health and metabolic fitness.[20]

It can be scary to give up dieting and listen to your body to inform what you eat, though, because of the fear of weight gain with intuitive eating. Try not to let this fear stop you from healing your relationship with food. With the right tools, you can help curb this anxiety.

Here are some steps you can take to wean yourself off rigid calorie counting and make peace with food:

  • Delete the app: Release the unnecessary stress of tracking every single thing you eat. Also, consider giving up calorie counting altogether. If you’re too afraid of weight gain by giving up food tracking, keep it as a goal in the back of your mind as you continue to heal your relationship with food.
  • Develop trust in your body: Trust that your body knows how to regulate itself, and that when you listen to your body, it will gravitate to its set point weight all on its own. If you want to reach a lower set point weight, dieting is not the answer. Studies show that restricting calories ends up increasing your set point weight.[21]
  • Eat intuitively: Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, and eat foods that satisfy you — regardless of their ‘red,’ ‘orange,’ or ‘green’ categorization. Evidence shows that intuitive eating can lead to better mental and physical health outcomes.[20]
  • Exercise intuitively: Listen to the feedback that your body provides about exercise, too. If you’re pushing too hard at the gym, your body will tell you; and remember that cortisol is associated with weight gain, so white-knuckling a grueling workout may not align with your weight loss goals. The good news is that when you begin to exercise intuitively, it can help you eat intuitively too.[22]
  • Honor your cravings: While tracking calories on Noom, you may end up eating a “green” food in place of an “orange” or “red” food that you’re craving. However, eating around your cravings often leads to eating more food overall, especially if you end up eating the original craved item in the end. By giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy the foods you truly desire when you’re hungry, you can help prevent overeating and foster a healthier relationship with food.
  • Embrace food neutrality: Untrain all the color-coded labels from Noom and embrace all foods as equal. This helps reduce preoccupation with food (i.e. feeling like you’re always thinking about food) and helps reduce guilt associated with eating formerly “forbidden foods.”
  • Cope with emotions without food: If you struggle with compulsive eating or emotional eating, emotional skill-building tools such as my Stop, Drop, & Feel technique can help with this. It asks you to train in sitting still with uncomfortable emotions to help develop tolerance for them. This helps address some of the root causes of compulsive eating.

Studies have shown that a low tolerance for distress is associated with overeating.[23] By training in feeling uncomfortable, you can increase your tolerance for distress — a skill I call emotional tolerance — and help curb overeating tendencies. This is just one example of diving deeper into the psychological reasons for overeating — far beyond the Noom curriculum.

Intuitive Eating Over Nooming

If you’re not seeing the results you hoped for with Noom, it could be an opportunity to explore a more intuitive way of eating. By tuning into your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, honoring your cravings, and embracing food neutrality, you can cultivate a healthier relationship with food that goes beyond the numbers on a scale.

Remember, your journey to wellness is unique, and finding a balance that works for you is key to long-term success. If you’re ready to let go of the stress of tracking and counting, consider giving intuitive eating a chance. It might just be the gentle, compassionate approach your body has been craving all along.

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Ready to dive even deeper into your journey of self-discovery? I proudly present my most celebrated workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do. This 75-page digital workbook reveals your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating. By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up.

Some say ‘feel it to heal it’ but this workbook takes it a step deeper and helps you ‘see it to heal it.’ If you’re the kind of person who logically knows how to live a healthy lifestyle but you compulsively do the opposite, this workbook will illuminate what’s standing in the way. Then, you know exactly where to focus your energy.

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