Of all the many ways there are to lose weight and maintain health, some are ancient and some are brand new. Take for example the difference between the Mediterranean diet, a well-established healthy-eating lifestyle rooted in the traditions of people living near the Mediterranean Sea, and Noom, a new app-driven program that combines healthy eating and psychology to help you lose weight without being on a diet per se.
“Noom is a behavior change program that helps people learn about and engage in healthier and sustainable eating and exercise habits, says Andreas Michaelides, a clinical psychologist and chief of psychology at Noom.
Eshani Ewing, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health in Florida, notes that the key interface for Noom is “a mobile weight-loss app centered around behavior change.” Users can track food, physical activity and body weight using an app that uses push notifications and other digital reminders to keep users engaged.
In addition to the app, Michaelides says users also gain access to:
- Noom’s curriculum of classes.
- A one-to-one human coach.
- A recipe database.
- A virtual support group with other Noom users.
How Noom Works
“Noom uses psychology to help our users identify and understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ when it comes to their personal health journey,” Michaelides says. “This understanding helps people build healthy habits that stick.”
The program focuses on more than just tracking calorie intake, he adds, and includes topics such as:
“Noom helps users expand their view of health and learn about themselves, their behaviors and triggers and how to overcome obstacles specific to their lifestyle,” Michaelides explains. “This psychological approach is one of the key components to achieving and maintaining sustainable weight loss.”
Using cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, “Noom’s program discusses how thoughts, behaviors and emotions directly relate to food and exercise choices,” Michaelides says. This makes the approach completely individualized and customizable, tailored to the user’s unique needs and goals. “Noom meets users where they are in their journey to help each person achieve long-term success,” he adds.
The app encourages small, sustainable behavioral changes surrounding food choices, exercise and tracking weight through the use of daily reminders, such as logging more steps or adding what you ate at your last meal to the food diary. “The program also includes support from real-life coaches that help build accountability,” Michaelides says. Ewing cautions that these coaches may not be registered dietitians.
In addition to the behavioral change component, the system also helps users choose healthier, lower-calorie food options that can result in weight loss or weight management. The system features a color system that places foods into three different categories – green, yellow and red – based on caloric density, Ewing says. The goal is to consume:
- 30% green foods, which are the least calorie-dense foods. This includes vegetables and whole grains.
- 45% yellow foods, including lean meats and starches.
- 25% red foods, such as red meat and desserts.
To get started with the program, you’ll download the app to your smartphone, then answer several questions about your weight goals, eating habits, exercise habits and how quickly you want to achieve your goal. The app then crunches this data and spits out a recommended daily calorie allowance so you know how much you can eat each day and still stay on track for meeting your goal.
Mediterranean Diet Overview
Whereas the Noom program has been hailed as a Millennial approach to weight management that relies on digital technology and individualized coaching, the Mediterranean diet is a reliable, old-school approach that’s been a favorite of dietitians the world over for many years.
Developed in the 1960s as a means of reducing incidence of heart disease, the Mediterranean diet borrows many principals of eating and living in a sustainable way from several southern European counties that border the Mediterranean including Greece, Spain and Italy.
“The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of whole grains and legumes, which are important sources of fiber in our diet,” says Lindsay Collier, clinical dietitian specialist of Westchester Medical Center. “The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based proteins with fish, poultry and meats consumed weekly, not daily.” It also includes lots of heart-healthy and omega-3 fatty acid–rich olive oil.
A pattern of eating that fits into an overall lifestyle rather than a restrictive, short-term diet, the Mediterranean approach is all about moderation. No food is off limits, but dairy, red meat, sweets and processed foods should be limited, Collier says. “The Mediterranean diet encourages moderation of dairy but does not encourage restriction and also promotes mindful eating behaviors.”
Ewing says that “Noom has been recognized as a lifestyle exchange program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are evidence-based solutions that can reduce a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.”
The program is relatively new, so there’s not a lot of independent research into whether it works and if so, how sustainable that weight loss is. But one 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that about 78% of 35,921 participants who used Noom lost weight while using the app over an 18-month period. And interestingly, the users who most faithfully recorded what they ate for dinner lost more weight than those who didn’t.
Another 2016 study looked at Noom in relationship to diabetes prevention. In that small study, (36 overweight or obese participants completed a 24-week virtual Diabetes Prevention Program delivered via Noom’s platform), 64% lost more than 5% of their body weight. The study also found that participants were “highly engaged” with the program, and that added up to the app being effective for prediabetes intervention.
The key with Noom is that focus on behavioral change, which is intended to help users make lasting changes resulting in weight loss. Moderate weight loss has been shown to reduce risks for several chronic adverse health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
The Mediterranean diet has the benefit of being a well-established and widely recommended way of eating. “The Mediterranean diet has been researched for over 50 years and is recommended by the American Heart Association,” Ewing adds. And a vast number of studies have linked the Mediterranean lifestyle with a range of health benefits including:
- Weight loss.
- Heart health.
- Diabetes prevention and management.
- Brain health.
“Multiple studies and reviews have been published showing benefits for diabetes, cardiovascular health including stroke prevention, and limited data linking the Mediterranean diet to the prevention of Alzheimer’s and depression,” Collier says. Reduced risk and better management of Type 2 diabetes has also been associated with the Mediterranean diet. Because it’s high in fiber and limits intake of processed and red meats, the Mediterranean diet has also been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
Overall, the Noom approach can be done in a healthy way, but Ewing notes that “with any weight loss program, it’s important to consider the individual’s needs. Speak with your doctor or registered dietitian before starting any new diets to determine what is best for you.”
Michaelides adds, “in general, we don’t recommend our program for women who are pregnant,” and anyone who’s underweight or has a history of eating disorders should also steer clear.
Another potential criticism of the Noom app is that it only allows users to record calories. No other nutritional information is captured when users log their meals.
Ewing cautions that “the sustainability of the weight loss is up to the individual. The accountability and support from coaches and peers can certainly help you achieve weight loss goals. However, once you’ve met your goal, it’s important to ask yourself if this is something you can maintain long-term without the app.”
Similarly, the Mediterranean diet is considered a healthy approach that has few, if any, specific health risks. That said, if portions aren’t controlled, you may not lose weight or could even gain weight while following this lifestyle. Collier also notes that because red wine may be included in some iterations of this diet, that could be an issue for folks who shouldn’t be consuming alcohol.
Noom’s flagship program, the Healthy Weight Program, costs $59 per month, or $99 every two months. There’s also a free 14-day trial where you can try out the program for free to see if the approach works for you. In addition to the program, you’ll be buying all the food you’ll consume while following it.
It’s entirely possible to follow a Mediterranean diet while on a budget, and working with a registered dietitian may help you find more economical ways of staying in the guidelines for the plan.
Beans, bulk whole grains and lentils are some of the least expensive items in the grocery store, and because the Mediterranean diet features lots of these plus plenty of fresh, green leafy vegetables and limits intake of expensive cuts of red meat, it may be more economical than some other diets. Still, seafood, which is often a feature of the diet, may be more expensive, so you’ll need to assess your budget and plan if you’re trying to stick to a budget.
Which Is Better?
|Food||Low-calories foods are emphasized.
Foods are divided into red, yellow and green categories based on calorie content.
You could follow a Mediterranean Diet while using Noom.
|Plant-based approach with seafood and limited meat, poultry and dairy products. Meat, sweets and processed foods are limited.
Preference for whole foods over processed foods.
Features southern European flavors and foods such as olive oil.
|Weight Loss||With a focus on restricting calories and changing behaviors, this approach typically results in weight loss that may be sustainable.||If portions are controlled, weight loss can be achieved and maintained.|
|Health Risks||No specific threats, but not recommended for pregnant woman or those with eating disorders.||Generally considered a very healthy approach to eating with few health risks.|
|Health Benefits||Weight loss.
Improved relationship with food and better understanding of choices and behaviors.
|Potential cardiovascular benefits, including lowered cholesterol and blood pressure; reduced risk of stroke; reduced risk of certain cancers; reduced risk of developing diabetes and better management of Type 2 diabetes.|
|Cost||$59 per month, or $99 every two months plus the cost of food, which may be budget-friendly depending on choices.||Cost of food, which may be budget-friendly depending on choices.|
“In terms of which is best, this entirely depends on your goals and needs,” Ewing says. “There are no food groups that are off limits with either, which is key for compliance and sustainability.”
In either case, Ewing says both diets compare favorably to the standard American diet. “The standard American diet is highly processed, containing a lot of added sugar and sodium. The Mediterranean diet and Noom both promote inclusion of minimally processed foods, and the two approaches can be combined.
Lastly, Ewing notes that “health and eating choices are very individualized; what works for one person won’t always work well for another.” Therefore, “it’s important to address all the components that affect your eating habits and opt for something that’s realistic and sustainable.”
If you’re having trouble or feel confused about what approach might work best for you, “seek guidance from a registered dietitian,” she recommends.