At Noom, our mission is to help people live healthier lives through behavior change. This is always our number one goal – and means doing so in a way that is proven by science and safe for each and every one of our Noomers.
We have recently heard some criticism around calorie budgets in the Noom program and wanted to take the opportunity to address it directly.
First, thank you for your feedback. Noom was founded as a consumer-first digital health company, and that means using feedback, data, and research about how real people use the program to make Noom even better. We also wanted to take the opportunity to share related improvements we have made, how we plan to continue improving, as well as share more details about the science behind our current approach.
Below is a summary of our current approach and the research that supports it, as well as the areas where we’ve made initial enhancements and know we can improve further.
Why we have calorie goals
People come to Noom for many different reasons — some to adopt healthier habits, others to better understand their relationship with food, others manage their stress, and in many cases, to lose weight.
For those who come to Noom looking to lose weight, we provide a daily calorie recommendation. It is important to note that this daily recommendation is meant to be just that: a recommended range to shoot for, not a rigid directive. Research shows that those who engage in dietary self-monitoring (a.k.a. providing a calorie goal and then asking individuals to track their food intake) are significantly more likely to succeed in their weight loss goals and in sustaining healthier, long-term habits. (It turns out that we humans are quite bad at keeping track of what we eat or understanding patterns without the right tools!)
Earlier this year we implemented a design update that represents the calorie budget as an optimal range, instead of an endpoint, because we know that variation in daily and weekly calories is normal and expected. We will continue to test changes that help more clearly indicate that our calorie budgets are a recommendation not a directive, and explain why we have calorie budgets in the first place.
How we calculate calorie goals
Speaking of why we have calorie budgets, and though it may be hard to digest (no pun intended), the science is quite clear on this point: if we want to lose weight, we must eat fewer calories than we burn. This means you need to have a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight.
We calculate this calorie deficit using calculations that are considered to be the gold standard in the scientific community. We first calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) based on the Harris-Benedict equation which is a calculation of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) times your activity factor. Today, we set this activity factor to an inactive (“sedentary”) level as a jumping off point, and then increase the calorie budget through daily activity logging. As we learn more about users’ habits, we will continue to make this adaptation more dynamic. Picking the right activity factor is complex, as is estimating an accurate calorie burn, and we are continuing to iterate on both. Our goal is to follow the science and make Noom as customizable to fit your needs as possible. We know that depending on how we ask questions about your activity, the accuracy of self-reported activity level can vary, so we’re trying to strike the right balance.
Once we have calculated the total daily energy expenditure, we translate that into a safe calorie deficit based both on the fact that losing one pound of body mass requires an approximate 3500 calorie deficit and based on the clinical recommendation for sustainable weight loss pace at one to two pounds per week. Today, we set the default to two pounds a week, and allow users to adjust their pace to what works best for them. This is an area of active experimentation to allow for further pace personalization based on what has worked well for other Noomers.
Based on these equations and extensive scientific research that supports it as safe and effective, our minimum daily calorie goal was set at 1200 (for female, and 1400 for male). However, based on the feedback we heard from our users, we have increased these minimums by 10%. And we are happy to report that users are still achieving their weight loss goals with this increase. This is the type of experimentation that is core to Noom and we expect to do more of this going forward.
The safeguards we have in place
We have several safeguards in place today to ensure the safety of our users. First, we do not permit people to sign up for Noom Weight if they enter a goal weight that is below a BMI of 18.5.
Back to how we set calorie goals, we set a minimum budget, so even if a user wants to move faster with their weight loss, they can’t go at a pace or select a lower calorie budget that would be unsafe. For many users, when we calculate their personalized budget based on the formulas above, it falls below the minimum guideline, and thus is adjusted up to the floor amount, which is why many users get the same budget (a question we often get!).
We also screen people out of Noom if they are pregnant or have an active eating disorder. Additionally, our team of thousands of coaches is trained to be hypervigilant to signs that a user may be struggling within the program, and remove them or offer additional resources as needed.
Additionally, very soon, we are also rolling out adjusted calorie goals for those who are currently nursing. This is part of much larger efforts to make Noom more personalized.
We are continually listening to both our Noomers and to the latest scientific research to improve and be a better version of Noom than the day before. Enhancing user experience around calorie goals and weight loss pace is a top priority for us.
One area where we are currently digging in with many leading experts in the field is around healthy weight loss pacing for those with a non-elevated BMI. 85% of Noom users start out with elevated BMIs (over 25, putting them in the overweight or obese category), but some do not, and we want to make sure that our recommendations are appropriate for all.
We think about Noom as being 15% done. There are so many things we will do to improve and this is just the start. In the future, we see a Noom that offers the option to not count calories if that’s what you prefer, or a Noom that allows users to graduate from calorie tracking and to eat mindfully and by listening to their body based on habits and skills they have built thanks to Noom.
We will keep improving because we know how important it is to you. Please feel free to share your feedback directly with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing from you.