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Noom vs. Weight Watchers: Comparing diet and weight loss apps for New Year's

Find out how relative newcomer Noom stacks up against the legacy of Weight Watchers.

The start of a new year brings the promise of a clean slate, and the prospect of becoming a new you. You can resolve to save money, read more, travel more, quit smoking or get healthier. But fitness and wellness resolutions are the most popular goals people commit to on Jan. 1. 

Almost everything lives on our phones now, and a quick internet search will bring up a few dozen apps that aim to help if losing weight, getting healthier or focusing on fitness is your New Year's resolution. Before you download anything, it's important to do some research about what you're signing up for. 

One of the traditional weight-loss programs 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 marketing). Another app that has 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 into your phone, like 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. 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 bar codes in the WW app -- much easier than tracking by hand, as you had to in the past. 

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. 

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). 

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 (I know, how many times have we heard that?). But it's not restrictive -- it's sustainable, and it's about making better choices. It doesn't mean you can't have ice cream, just less ice cream, or choose frozen yogurt instead. I found the program to be easy to follow and effective when I committed to it. 

In terms of cost, you can sign up to use the app only for about $17 per month. Try the app plus workshops (strategies and support from experts and members) for about $38 per month. You can also subscribe to the app plus personal coaching for $51 per month. This means WW-certified coaches and guides are available to you online or in studios (if one is located in your area) when you need extra help. WW lets you try the app for the first month free, so if it doesn't feel right to you, you can cancel. 

I found that sometimes it's hard to stick to WW, especially on the weekends. 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. 

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. 

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. 

Similarly to in WW, you track your day's food in terms of 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. You're given a daily checklist with specific articles to read and quizzes about health, food, fitness and nutrition. You can save recipes, articles and the like to refer back to later. 

Unlike WW, with its points system, Noom counts calories. I felt a little cautious when the app assigned me 1,200 calories for a day, as I'm 5-foot-9. When I used the built-in fitness app on my old Samsung phone, I was given 1,600 calories per day. 

Noom sorts foods into red, yellow and green. 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. 

Noom is pricier than WW: It costs $45 per month, but you get all of the features mentioned above for your dollar. 

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. Noom also wanted me to weigh myself everyday, while WW only prompts you to weigh in once per week. I understood on some level that this was to establish habits and so you can see how weight naturally fluctuates, but as someone who has had an unhealthy relationship with a scale in the past, it wasn't the best practice for me personally. It's easy to obsess over the slightest weight change that really doesn't mean anything besides water or the fact that you're wearing jeans. 

I've done WW on and off for the past several months, but I only tried out Noom for about a week. I wasn't as keen about the price of Noom and the low number of calories it recommended for someone my height. In addition, an article by a registered dietician about Noom raised a few questions for me.

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, 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.

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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.