This article is written in partnership with Noom—they’re dedicated to making healthy living easier for us all, and we’re honored to work with them. ~ ed.
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I’ve never been particularly preoccupied with my weight.
Actually, I should be more specific: I’ve never been preoccupied with the three-digit number that appears on a scale. And, well, to be even more specific: I’ve never even owned a scale.
That’s not to say that I’ve never had body issues (I have). And it’s also not to say that I haven’t had moments of standing in front of a mirror and dissecting whether I’m curvier or thinner than I was the month before (I have—more times than I can count).
What I mean is that I’ve always been wary of turning my body into a number, of using the fluctuations of a pound or two or ten to determine my perception of my fat, fitness levels, or figure. It’s always felt like a tricky, dangerous, and anxiety-producing road to walk down. It’s also always felt downright irrelevant and unhelpful to my ultimate goal, which is to simply always be the healthiest and happiest human I can be.
What’s our role in weight loss culture?
Elephant Journal has been partnering with Noom, a weight loss* (more on that later) app, for some time now.
Our editors have tried the app themselves, and when we share about it, we share from that place of having experienced and actually put ourselves on the line to uncover whether this product is of real benefit to our fellow dear humans.
And yet, every time we post anything about Noom on our Facebook or Instagram channels, there’s an outcry. We get comments like these:
@annieloutoyou: Hi, can we stop associating weight with health? In some cases lowering weight can result in better health. And there are many people who are considered “overweight” who are perfectly healthy. This kind of framing perpetuates a negative image for people who don’t have the societally “ideal” weight.
@bodyimage_therapist: Whoaaa this is filled with weight bias and assumptions about health. The thought ‘Unwanted weight’ is more about the psychological effects of weight stigma. Body weight is complex and goes beyond the simplistic concept that it’s a personal choice. Noom is just another diet packaged up for millennials. Time to get more woke @elephantjournal
Weight loss culture is oppression! This is enabling eating disorders! Elephant has lost their integrity!
I don’t disagree with any of these comments—in fact, I would half expect myself to write one of these comments. Which is why, when I became the next editor appointed to try out the Noom app, I entered it with a highly skeptical frame of mind.
I went to their site, answered all the questions of their thorough preliminary questionnaire, downloaded the app, entered my current weight and desired weight, and set my health and fitness goals. I also, unenthusiastically, borrowed my mom’s scale.
I started weighing myself every morning. I started logging all my meals. I started doing their daily lessons in mindfulness, weight loss, health, fitness, and psychology. And I started trying to meet their step goal (automatically set at 2,000 steps per day).
Now, months down the Noom road, here are my thoughts on the app (and also my reflections on the criticisms of it—including my own):
“Losing weight” isn’t inherently negative or unhealthy.
Many of us want to lose weight. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be healthy and empowering and even life-saving sometimes. If it becomes disordered, another method of self-harm, then, yes, it can be problematic and even life-destroying.
But when the United States (and much of the world) is faced with the health-crippling crisis of widespread obesity it is today, surely we should be able to find a way to address the issue mindfully?
Here’s what Emily, our first editor to write about her Noom journey, here, had to say:
“I do think it’s possible for some people to want to lose weight and not have that automatically equate to eating disorders or body dysmorphia, and in my mind Noom is a good program for those people who aren’t prone to disordered eating.”
Should we change the culture around body image and dieting and concepts of “ideal” weights? Absolutely. So many of our societally constructed perceptions of our own bodies are wildly destructive. But some people want to lose weight for personal reasons, and some people need to lose weight for medical reasons—and those people should have a mindful, healthy, grounded way to do so.
Noom is just that. It’s not about deprivation or extreme dieting or obsessive exercising. It’s about reframing how we perceive food, exercise, and our own well-being. It’s about learning the psychology of wellness and the negative habits or thought patterns we’ve developed that lead us toward less mindful, less healthy lives.
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Mindfulness is a tool we can—and should—all use when it comes to diet and exercise.
Though some people do use Noom specifically as a weight loss tool, that is by no means the app’s only function—and is, I would argue, not where the true magic of the app lies.
For me, the app was transformative not because of how it shaped my body, but because of how it shaped my mind. Never before had I so consciously or thoughtfully considered the decisions I was making every day, multiple times a day, about my health. Never had I realized my own patterns around eating that weren’t serving me or helping me toward my happy-healthy-human goal. Never before had I heard of many of the concepts Noom taught me—even though they have been playing a role in my psychology for as long as I can remember.
The other beautiful thing about the app is that I get to make it mine. I get to decide what my primary goals are. I get to decide what I expect of myself with exercise or step goals. I get to decide whether I want to focus on training for a marathon, losing five pounds, eating more mindfully, or none (or all) of the above.
It’s a time for myself and a place I can go to check in with my mind and heart about how kind I’m being to myself, whether I’m being true to my exercise goals, and if there are ways I can improve my eating habits. And it’s not for my doctor or for an Instagram fitness personality who’s never met me or for the high school teacher who told me I could stand to lose a few pounds. No, it’s for me—and for that happy, healthy human I am always aiming to be.
The only person who really knows what’s best for you is you.
When I started my Noom journey, I was dutifully weighing myself every morning. And I will say, I got more comfortable and was able to let go of some of the negative associations I had with it as a result.
But then, after about a month, I just stopped. I gave the scale back to my mom, and I have no intention of using it again or buying one for myself.
I don’t feel ashamed. I don’t feel like I failed. I’m not in anguish over giving up on my goals—because I didn’t. Losing weight was never my real goal. And, as a Noom user, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve still gotten all of the life-improving benefits of the app, even after ditching the scale routine. Which is the reason I’ve gone from Noom skeptic to Noom convert.
Because Noom for me, when it comes down to it, isn’t about losing weight at all. It’s about mindfully, patiently, self-lovingly becoming the best version of ourselves—regardless of whether that version is curvier or thinner than we were the month before.