Imagine that you could lose weight without going on a diet.
Imagine that you could repair your broken relationship with food, with hunger, with your own skin, and in the process shed those 10 pounds you’ve been wanting to lose. Imagine that you could simply learn how to get in touch with your body — thoughtfully, mindfully — and teach yourself not to crave foods that don’t nourish you. Imagine that you could transcend America’s toxic diet culture, and at the same time, you could also be really, really skinny.
That’s the dream that Noom, a buzzy weight loss app targeted to young people, has been selling for years. “With Noom, every day is ‘No Diet Day,’” it declared on Instagram last May. “And yes, we also help people lose weight,” it added in the caption. Noom’s messaging insists that it teaches users healthy, sustainable habits that leave them feeling happy and satisfied as the pounds melt away.
The no-diet diet angle paid off. In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Noom was valued at $4.2 billion in May 2021, and late last year it expected its 2021 revenue to total more than $600 million. It was even circling the possibility of an initial public offering for early 2022, with a prospective valuation of $10 billion.
But the Wall Street Journal didn’t think that IPO was going to happen anytime soon. “Noom’s key differentiator — applying psychology to achieve long-term weight loss — has recently backfired,” it explained. Critics say that Noom is just another diet app at best, and a deceptive gateway to disordered eating at worst.
“The idea that there could be a way to lose weight without having all of the psychological and emotional hang-ups around food and diet culture is super appealing,” says Meredith Dietz, the reporter behind the recent Lifehacker article headlined “Fuck Noom.” “But I don’t think Noom actually delivers.”
Virginia Sole-Smith, the journalist behind the fat activist newsletter Burnt Toast and a high-profile critique of Noom in Bustle last October, agrees.
In an interview, Sole-Smith said she was drawn to reporting on Noom in part because of the client base that its “not like regular diets” ad campaign was drawing on. “I was hearing from a lot of people who were doing it who didn’t think of themselves as dieters and wouldn’t want to be doing a diet,” Sole-Smith says. “They were like, ‘Well, it’s helping me rethink some of my habits and unpack some of my issues with food.’ And then a few months later, I would hear from them again being like, ‘Actually, it’s ruining my life.’”
The fight between Noom and its critics is part of a larger cultural war that has begun to play out over the past 10 years over how we should think about food, weight, bodies, and health.
In one corner is the traditional diet culture most American women grew up in,