Noom users maintained healthier habits on COVID Thanksgiving compared to previous Thanksgivings

by | Dec 11, 2020 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

turkey on dinner plate

As you finally finish up those Thanksgiving leftovers, we decided to dig into the data to see how Thanksgiving this year affected Noom users’ healthy habits compared to previous years. 

Why Thanksgiving? Well, eating habits, like how much we eat and whether we keep track of how much we eat, can be really important for our health and weight control. And Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that likely puts the biggest wrench in our healthy eating goals. First, we eat – a lot – on Thanksgiving. Americans consume around 4,500 calories, 1.4 billion pounds of turkey, 80 million pounds of cranberries, and 214 million pounds of potatoes on Thanksgiving. Even those of us with healthy eating goals may eat much more than we’d like on Thanksgiving for a number of reasons, both external (pressure from Aunt Susie to eat more, the delicious pumpkin pie sitting on the table) and internal (stress, feeling like we deserve a break). Second, we don’t like to track what we eat during holidays like Thanksgiving. When people are asked to track how much they eat in formal studies, they track a lot less during or after holidays like Thanksgiving than before. And those who track how much they eat lose more weight than those who do not. We shy away from tracking after a huge Thanksgiving meal for a lot of understandable reasons, such as fear of falling off the bandwagon and wanting to avoid feelings of shame.

Here at Noom, we emphasize that there is no shame in an off day, and that healthy habits are a lifestyle, not perfection that has to be achieved every day. That could be one reason why Noom users have usually done really well on Thanksgiving. They have of course eaten traditional Thanksgiving food (such as turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce). But they’ve done a great job tracking their food (what we call “logging” on Noom) over the past few years. For example, almost 20% of users logged their food on Thanksgiving in 2019. 

The question we had, though, was: what happened in 2020? According to studies, people have said they’ve been eating worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as stress eating and eating more snacks. People have also felt that COVID-19 disrupted their weight loss journeys, making it harder to maintain healthy habits. That could make overeating and decreased logging an even bigger problem this year. However, fewer people traveled and gathered in groups for Thanksgiving this year, which may have decreased external pressures such as Aunt Susie telling us to eat more. So it could be that Noom users, who have learned about strengthening their internal knowledge and resolve on the program, were actually better able to stick to their healthy habits this Thanksgiving. 

So we asked: how did food logging on Thanksgiving 2020 compare to previous years? And when they did log, what did Noom users eat on Thanksgiving this year compared to previous years? 

First, we looked at how much users logged their food. In 2019, 19% of users who had logged at least one meal in the past month made sure to log their food on Thanksgiving. In 2020, that number skyrocketed to 32%. 

Percent of users who had logged in the past month who logged on Thanksgiving

Next, we took a look at what users ate (or, more accurately, what they logged eating). In 2018 and 2019, traditional Thanksgiving foods dominated the top 10 foods logged (e.g., mashed potatoes, turkey, and pumpkin pie). In 2020, the same foods topped the list, which probably means users tried to keep up with tradition, taking comfort in our beloved Thanksgiving foods in a year when so much has changed. 

Top 10 foods in 2019Top 10 foods logged in 2020
Mashed PotatoesMashed Potatoes
Pumpkin PiePumpkin Pie
Turkey BreastTurkey Gravy
Green Bean CasseroleCranberry Sauce
Cranberry SauceBanana
BananaTurkey Breast
Green BeansGreen Bean Casserole
Turkey GravyGreen Beans

We then wondered: even if people were eating the same, how did Thanksgiving compare to how they normally eat? In other words, we usually eat a lot more unhealthily on Thanksgiving compared to how we were doing before Thanksgiving, so did that happen this year? We looked at this using Noom’s food categorization scheme, which helps people maintain healthy habits. Fruits and vegetables are categorized as green because they have low energy density (you can eat a lot for fewer calories), complex carbohydrates are categorized as yellow because they have medium energy density, and dessert and red meat are categorized as red because they have high energy density. In 2018 and 2019, there was a 9% drop in green foods on Thanksgiving and a 1-3% increase in red foods. This means that compared to pre-Thanksgiving eating habits, Thanksgiving (understandably) threw a bit of a wrench in people’s healthy eating habits. In 2020, we saw that much less of a drop in green foods and less of a spike in red foods. This means that Thanksgiving was less of a departure from pre-Thanksgiving eating habits this year compared to previous years. 

Difference in food logging on Thanksgiving compared to a week before Thanksgiving

This difference seemed to come down to what happened before Thanksgiving: it seems like people were eating slightly unhealthier leading up to Thanksgiving this year compared to previous years, and then ate similarly on Thanksgiving. This means that people weren’t overeating that much more compared to that baseline this year and kept themselves well in check on Thanksgiving! 

So what does this all mean? We might be creatures of habit, loving the comforts of tradition, but Noom users were better able to maintain healthy habits during Thanksgiving this year compared to previous years. More users logged on Thanksgiving and they were better able to hold off on overeating too much. Though they ate similarly on Thanksgiving day, users didn’t overeat much more than their pre-Thanksgiving baseline as they did in previous years.


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