How Noom and WW sell mindfulness as a way to lose weight

Last December, Stephen Snoder, a 37-year-old communications employee at a New York law firm, conducted a search for “epidemic weight gain” on Google. He stopped running and indulged in comforting Grubhub meals during quarantine. He wanted to match his 2019 outfit again.

As he found himself sifting through information about several online weight loss companies and programs, one slogan caught his eye: “Stop dieting. Get results that last a lifetime.” An app called Noom promised to use psychology to help “build new habits to crush.” your goals.” The company’s website described how he would pair up with a wellness coach and receive short lessons and quizzes based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Crucially, the app said he could eat anything he wanted. Noom ads soon flooded Snowder’s Instagram feed. signed on.

The American Psychological Association reports that 42% of Americans who gained weight between March 2020 and February 2021 added an average of 29 pounds to their tires. People are now looking to shed this weight. The market for weight loss products is expanding, and is expected to grow from nearly $255 billion globally this year to $377 billion by 2026, according to the research and Markets analytics firm. Perhaps no company is taking better advantage of this than Noom, which is worth $4 billion and has raised more than $650 million from investors, such as Sequoia Capital and Silver Lake. The company’s app was launched in 2016, and it has been downloaded around 45 million times; Noom says it nearly doubled annual revenue between 2019 and 2020, to $400 million.

Focusing more on wellness than weight loss—a message it spreads through social media ads and influencer marketing—Noom has been on the wave of body positivity to attract people looking for a more holistic way to shed pounds. And she’s not alone: ​​In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded it to WW, in part to expand its appeal. “There is so much more than just losing weight,” says Debra Benovitz, WW Vice President of Human Facts and Society Impacts. We hear a lot about it [people] Come lose weight, but find wellness.” (The rebranding wasn’t entirely successful. Although WW is gaining ground with digital subscribers, the company’s revenue was down 10% year-over-year in Q2 2021.) Incognito and powered By venture capital firms GV and Atomic.It offers digital training and support groups, as well as telemedicine consultations with physicians who can prescribe weight loss medications.

But even as they champion a psychosocial approach to healthy habits, Noom and other online training programs still focus on getting people to shed pounds through cutting food consumption — the same technology that has defined weight loss since calorie counting became popular in the 1920s. the last century. Alexis Konasson, MD, clinical psychologist, eating disorder specialist, and author of The Free Diet Revolution. “Weight loss companies are trying to join that bandwagon by claiming that they are not diet companies, when they are.”

Noom’s rise comes at a time when celebrities and corporations alike are spreading a positive message about body and weight inclusion – to love yourself as you are. Today’s weight loss companies have recognized this. Gone are obesity-disgraceful advertisements showing people holding a pair of jeans before losing weight. Noom Marketing talks about daily doses of self-care and being the leader of your own life. The app encourages users to change their relationship to food by setting goals, identifying emotional triggers related to eating, and (yes) holding themselves accountable by recording what they eat and their weight each day.

Weight training: Noom is the latest in a long history of dieting fads

WW follows a similar approach. Last fall, it introduced myWW+, a customized app-based program that combines meal planning tools with features that address weight loss by looking at sleep, mindset, and physical activity. “We are a behavior change company, and weight is the end point,” said Chief Scientific Officer Gary Foster. He tries to find the thread of the needle in the same way. “This is holistic. It’s not just about what you lose, but what you find along the way,” says Swathi Prithvi, Co-Founder and COO, Swathi Prithvi. In other words, by promising to transform users’ lifestyles (rather than just their bodies), Companies remain on the right side of the body positivity movement.

In the meantime, customers have to pay—regularly. Noom subscriptions start at a monthly price of about $65, while a WW digital membership starts at $21.95 a month. Finding costs an average of $100 a month, including medication. Each year, nearly half of all American adults diet. Only 5% of them managed to maintain the weight. Corporate profits lose weight regardless.

As much as these companies try to distance themselves from the idea of ​​calorie restriction, that’s ultimately what they’re selling. When Snoder started using Noom, he was told he could eat whatever food he wanted — as long as it stayed within 1,400 calories a day, or just over half the recommended calories for an adult man, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. In WW, users are no longer asked to specifically count calories, but are given daily goals, with a number assigned to each portion of food based on the number of calories and nutritional value. Found and Calibrate, another telehealth startup that offers both medical consultations and prescription medications. But until they end up in the same place: meal logging and restrictive diets (albeit those supervised by doctors).

The problem is not that these companies rely on dieting to get people to achieve their goals. The thing is, the wellness-focused marketing they’ve embraced can be misleading — and worse. Konasun and other eating disorder experts note that Nome chose the language of eating disorder recovery, using terms such as “conscious eating” and “anti-dieting.”

says Kristi Harrison, a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist and author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim your time, money, well-being, and happiness through intuitive eating. “People are seduced when they are vulnerable and often don’t realize how bad it is until it is too late.”

At the same time, recommended Noom practices, such as counting calories, restricting food, and weighing yourself, can encourage eating disorders. Apps like Noom and W

W tends to focus on diet culture, and that can be really detrimental for those at risk for an eating disorder,” says Lauren Smaller, senior program director at the National Eating Disorders Association. (Noom says it screens out people with unhealthy weight-related goals. or signs of eating disorders). “It’s calorie counting, daily weight…it’s dieting. “They can call it whatever they want but in the end it’s still diet,” says Shera Rosenbluth, a social worker who specializes in working with people with eating disorders and body image issues. “The way they market and the way Noom works is very dangerous and harmful to anyone trying to have something to do with food and their body,” she adds.

Although Noom entices clients with its promise of a goal-oriented psychotherapy program, the company’s coaches are not certified therapists or nutritionists. Instead, they spend 75 hours of the “Noomiversity” program, which offers health classes as well as motivational coaching. Hundreds of clients may be simultaneously assigned to coaches. Konasson says there are elements in this approach that could be beneficial, but that the potential for harm “much outweighs the benefit.” Noom, however, is just getting started. In October, the company launched Noom Mood, a program to help people deal with stress and anxiety using mood recorders similar to food recorders.

After five months on the Noom diet, Snoder found himself constantly hungry. He reached out to his trainer for advice after eating more than his allotted calories. “She indicated that what was missing in my life was vitality,” he recalls. “She also said I shouldn’t get frustrated when I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see.” The thing is: He never mentioned how upset he was by his appearance.

Weeks later, I sent him a GIF of Brad Pitt cheering him up from the movie burn after readingTo congratulate him on completing 20 lessons. Shortly thereafter, Snoder went to visit his in-laws. He stopped logging his meals, and he didn’t want to ask them about every ingredient in every dish. Then quit Noom altogether. Decide to enjoy family time and taste the food.

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