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Noom vs. Weight Watchers: Which weight loss app is better for New Year's goals?

Noom has been called "Weight Watchers for millennials," but Weight Watchers has made significant updates to its program. Which one is best for you?

There's nothing like holiday feasting to derail a healthy eating routine, despite many families forgoing their holiday gatherings for Zoom calls amid the coronavirus pandemic. If you're looking to make a New Year's resolution of making healthier choices, a quick internet search will bring up a few dozen apps that aim to help if you want to lose weight, get healthier or focus on fitness. Before you download -- or pay for -- anything, it's important to do some research. 

One traditional weight-loss program is Weight Watchers. After almost 60 years, the program made the digital transition and rebranded itself as WW in 2018, putting more of a focus on health and wellness than dieting, at least when it comes to its marketing. Another app that's surfaced over the last couple years is Noom, which has called itself "Weight Watchers for millennials." 

While there are other apps you can use to track your diet and exercise -- including some free apps that may be built in to your phone, such as Samsung Health or Apple Health -- if you're considering WW or Noom for your dieting and fitness goals, here's what you need to know.  

WW

WW has been around for decades, but it's come leaps and bounds from tracking points by hand. The program assigns points to foods and recipes and sets a certain amount of points for your day based on your height, weight and weight loss goals, instead of having you count calories. You can search for foods or scan barcodes in the WW app. 

You'll track breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks every day, with weeks tracked Monday through Sunday. You have daily points to use (a number that resets each morning). You also get extra weekly points to use, which gives you some wiggle room to go over your daily amount. You can also log exercise and activity (the app can sync with your Fitbit) and weight changes, try out WW recipes and look up WW-friendly restaurants. Within the last few updates, the app has created a more dynamic user experience with articles, quizzes, recipes and other features. 

WW now offers three different plans to choose from: Blue (the traditional WW plan, which gives you a number of daily points plus certain zero-point foods such as fruits, veggies, lean proteins and eggs), Purple (gives you fewer daily points but more zero-point foods, including whole grains) and Green (gives you more daily points but fewer zero-point foods). You can switch plans at any time. 

While there are zero-point foods in every plan, that doesn't mean those foods have zero calories, or that you should only eat those foods. Instead, the goal is to train you to make healthier food choices. 

What I liked about Weight Watchers was that it didn't feel like a diet. (And yes, I know, how many times have we heard that?) It's not restrictive -- it's sustainable, and it's about making better choices. It doesn't mean you can't have ice cream, it just suggest you have less ice cream or choose frozen yogurt instead. I found the program easy to follow and effective when I committed to it. I like how the app can help you build WW-friendly recipes based on ingredients you already own with the What's in Your Fridge feature.

Here's what WW's different programs break down in terms of cost:

Digital (app only): Just over $3 a week
Digital 360 (app and WW-certified coaches): About $7 a week with 30-day free trial
Unlimited Workshops and Digital (app plus live, unlimited on-demand digital content and face-to-face coach-led sessions with other members): About $6 a week in select locations with WW studios
One-on-one Coaching and Digital: (app and one-on-one private coaching) About $9 a week

I found that sometimes it's hard to stick to WW, especially on the weekends and holidays. Meal planning is key. The more you put into the program, the more results you'll see. I also find it encouraging to look in the forums on the app to see real people's weight loss milestones, everyday accomplishments and struggles, tips, tricks and so on. It makes you feel less alone on your own journey. It's rewarding when you hit your own milestone though because WW sends you a little keychain to celebrate your progress. 

Getty/Westend61

You may have seen ads for Noom show up on social media, touting itself as "a smarter way to lose weight," but not a diet. The service, which has been around for just over 10 years, focuses on consistency and accountability. These are two things that can make or break health and fitness goals. In addition, the app focuses on teaching you about nutrition, and helps you pinpoint why you want to lose weight (which can be quite the eye-opener).

When you sign up for Noom, you're assigned a coach, who'll message you every few days to check in on your progress. Sometimes the comments felt vague, almost like it was an automated message, but some messages were more specific to what I had written to the coach. One nice feature is that you can set up the app to be aware of when you might be close to "falling off the wagon." For example, I set up my warning signs to be that I didn't open the app that day, which signaled the coach to check in with me. 

The coach and the way Noom "schedules" your day was one of my favorite aspects. You're given a daily checklist with specific articles to read and quizzes about health, food, fitness and nutrition. It might sound boring, but I appreciate the educational aspect that Noom includes in its program. The daily articles, along with messages from my coach, made me feel like my weight-loss journey had a bit more structure. You can also save any recipes, articles and the like to refer back to later. 

Similarly to WW, you track your day's food by logging breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and an evening snack. You can set the time when you usually eat breakfast, and Noom will calculate the best times for you to eat your other meals based on how to maximize fullness and improve your metabolism. You'll get notifications subsequently. 

Unlike WW, with its points system, Noom counts calories. Depending on how fast or slow you choose in the app to lose weight will determine the amount of calories Noom gives you -- in addition to the other vitals you input. Noom suggests experimenting to find a good balance for you. The lowest amount of calories the app will assign a woman is 1,200 and a man will get 1,400.

If you're unsure about the weight Noom suggests as healthy for you, you can always consult with a physician -- which is important before you start any type of diet -- especially if you have health issues. 

Noom sorts foods into red, yellow and green based on calorie density. Red foods are more processed, yellows tend to be meats and dairy and green foods are fruits, veggies, etc. The app wants you to eat more "nutrient-dense" foods, which means those with fewer calories that are more filling. The color system brings to mind a traffic light, which could help users take an extra second when reaching for a red food, to choose a green food instead. Some Noom reviewers have complained that some foods, even healthy variants, such as oatmeal, have flagged red however. 

Noom is pricier than WW: It costs $59 per month, but you get all of the features mentioned above for your dollar. You can also choose to buy months in "bulk" to help save money -- two to eight months, or annually. 


Ultimately, like with any eating plan, it's about finding what fits best with your personality and budget. The app offers a free trial if you're unsure about fully committing to the program just yet. 

The bottom line

When it comes to choosing between WW and Noom, think about which program would work best for you and your lifestyle. Scientific studies back up both programs: A 2016 study published in Scientific Reports examined nearly 36,000 Noom users, and found that the app drove sustained weight loss in 78% of people across a nine-month period. A 2011 study published in the Lancet medical journal found that overweight patients told by their doctors to do WW lost around twice as much weight as people receiving standard weight loss care over 12 months. 

Researching both apps before you get started is important. In addition, it's important to take inventory of yourself, taking into consideration why you want to lose weight. One of the things I liked about Noom is that it asked me why I was using the app. When I entered the answer, it asked why again. Another answer was met with another why. This let me examine myself and my motives more deeply. I recommend doing this even if you don't use Noom. 

I used WW first, and then tried Noom, and it was a bit of a jarring experience to go from having zero-point foods to counting calories again. It's important to remember that you can't live on zero-point foods alone, but not all calories are bad. 

Again, it comes down to what program you feel most comfortable with. Don't be afraid to try both since there are free trials, and if you don't feel comfortable with something -- with either program, discontinue it or consult a doctor. WW has been around longer, but Noom has a lot of promise. It went beyond "Eat this, don't eat this" and incorporated an educational element for sustaining healthy habits. It's a bit more expensive but includes more features. However, I found WW more forgiving and easier to follow. 

Both apps seemed to have learned a bit from each other as well -- WW has taken on some of Noom's more quirky, millennial-focused features and Noom has toned down some of the rigidity of its program (like weighing in every day). 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.