Body Acceptance, Self Compassion, and Noom

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

As both the science (1) and we at Noom (2) have found over and over again, behavior change is hard, and for many people, can lead to guilt and shame. As an example: first, you’re told (by a doctor, by a loved one, or even through persistent societal messages) that you have to make a change. Then, over the natural ups and downs of behavior change, you start to cycle through feeling bad about yourself or your body when your momentum ebbs, and like you’re not doing enough even when you’re “on”. Finally, you might start to feel like your worth is only tied to losing weight or meeting an exercise goal, and if you don’t, it’s a negative reflection on your overall self conception. 

The science says that this cycle is harmful and unproductive (3) – and we agree. This type of cycle shows why focusing on the standard components of weight loss without addressing any of the psychology behind guilt, shame, or body acceptance, can make things worse. But what if an approach to health improvements using acceptance-based psychology and behavior change could have the opposite effect, and help people to appreciate themselves and their bodies more? 

Acceptance-based therapies, cognitive behavioral therapy, and self-compassion-based therapies strive to help people to accept and understand their thoughts and emotions, including towards their bodies and/or themselves. They combat the negative thought patterns that contribute to guilt and shame, and they help individuals to understand how to appreciate their full, true selves as they are, while moving towards healthy behaviors. Science is starting to show that these modalities help to improve health outcomes and encourage people towards engaging in more healthy behaviors (4). Noom set out to test the hypothesis that, contrary to popular belief, body appreciation and self-compassion could improve, even while trying to lose weight, when exposed to acceptance and self-compassion-based therapies in a weight loss program. 

In this study, we asked users who were new to Noom Weight, in week 1 and week 16, about their feelings about the following:

  • body acceptance (how much you positively accept your body), 
  • body image flexibility (the extent to which your body image is negatively affecting your life), 
  • self-compassion (how much you give yourself kindness instead of judgment and criticism), and 
  • rumination (repetitive negative thoughts about your body).

Results showed that Noomers’ body positivity and self-compassion statistically significantly improved after 16 weeks of Noom Weight. Specifically, body acceptance improved by 6.5%, body image flexibility by 6.7%, self-compassion by 6.0%, and rumination by 5%. While these percentages might sound small in absolute terms, these changes are in line with those found in acceptance-based or self-compassion interventions outside of the context of weight loss (5).

Importantly, our findings suggest the psychological content of Noom helped these changes to occur no matter how much weight Noomers actually lost. Past studies have shown that after a weight loss program, improvements in body image were driven by weight loss, meaning people lost weight and that’s why they felt their bodies looked better (6). In this study, however, we found improvements in body positivity and self-compassion that were not driven by weight loss – no matter how much weight Noomers lost, they still felt better about themselves and their bodies after using Noom Weight. And this change was directly related to the psychological content of Noom. The more Noomers engaged with the specifically psychological content of Noom – such as reading more psychology-based articles or talking more to their coach – the more their body positivity and self-compassion improved. 

So it’s not a weight loss approach overall, but specifically the acceptance-based and self-compassion-based psychological approach of Noom that can help people to give themselves or their bodies the appreciation and kindness they deserve. When people think of weight loss, they might think of fad diets, restriction, and cycles of guilt and shame. Noom understands that in order to create lasting, positive changes in people’s lives, people need to know the science and the psychology behind their choices, decisions, and emotions. This study is just a first step in showing that the behavioral science at the core of Noom creates other positive benefits that can take you further down the road towards a healthier, more accepting life. 

Read more at https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/24/13358/htm. A prospective study of a random sample of individuals (total sample of 133) was surveyed at 0 and 16 weeks using scientifically validated scales of body positivity, self-compassion, and rumination. Statistically significant changes in body positivity, self-compassion, and rumination were all significant at the p=.007 – p=.001 level (indicating that the chances of this happening solely by chance are 0.7%-0.1%). 

  1.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298868.2011.558404 ; https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/bjhp.12499 
  2.  https://www.noom.com/state-of-healthy-behaviors-2021/
  3.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298868.2011.558404
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17437199.2019.1705872 ; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212144720301630 ; https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/365764 
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105317713361 ; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005789419301236 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735815301124 
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19203389/; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3102126/