Bait & Switch – My Noom Adventure

Photo of a woman eyeing a single leaf

When Monica and I saw that there was another program out there which promised to be a “weight-loss program designed by psychologists & scientifically proven to create real, sustainable results” we were pumped!

Sometimes when you are the lone voice in a space, you start to question your sanity. But Noom’s ads talked about all the stuff that is near and dear to our hearts here at Weighless. Phrases like “create new habits and healthy behaviours that stick” and “practice and master healthy lifestyle habits” were music to our ears. It was both validation that we were on to something, and reassurance that the world was truly fed up with diets and ready for something better.

Then one of our new members told us that she had actually quit Noom to come over to the Weighless program because they had put her on a 1200 calorie per day diet and she was tired of feeling hungry all the time.

Well, that doesn’t jibe with their messaging, does it?

So, I decided to sign up for their service and see what was going on.

Now this wasn’t some undercover, stealthy, nefarious, creepy infiltration. I was completely honest with them, including my goals and my name. I told them I only wanted to lose 2kg and was simply focussed on being healthy and strong as I approached my 50th birthday.

They had access to my demographic info (height, current weight, BMI, age, gender and so on) so what happened was a complete surprise to me.

They immediately adjusted my goal weight to 72kg (instead of my actual goal of 75) and put me on a 1400 calorie per day diet. What?!

I am a 6 foot tall, quite muscular, very active, 48-year-old man. 1400 calories per day is about 1000 calories less than I have been eating for the last 25 years. And even when I was a 21-year-old professional ballet dancer, I never weighed in at 72kg (158 lbs).

But the good news was, the Noom app told me, that if I exercised more, my calories allowance for the day went up.

Well… that also doesn’t jibe with their messaging, does it?

Here’s the thing. After working in this space for as long as Monica and I have, we have learned to recognize these behaviours as two of the cornerstones of disordered eating.

  • Starve yourself using an extremely low-calorie diet.
  • Reward yourself with more food by exercising (usually excessively).

And to top it off, I was meant to record all of my meals in their app, tracking every bite. Just like every diet and calorie counter I had ever encountered. A practice that has been shown in studies to decrease quickly over time.

Sure there were daily lessons that were surprisingly aligned with what we teach in the Weighless program – but by that point, the damage had been done.

Any possibility of “developing healthier habits that last” is lost when any of the weight loss I would experience (and I would definitely experience weight loss had I stuck to that absurdly low-calorie intake) is obviously coming from a diet that is exactly like all diets before it.

This is a true case of bait and switch.

They promise a lifestyle overhaul but that promise is purely window dressing on yet another diet that is doomed to fail in the long term.

See also: Weighless compared to Noom

Self-care and self-kindness

Researchers writing about mindful eating in Frontiers in Psychology interviewed a number of overweight people about their attitudes towards self-care and self-kindness. The results were fascinating.

The subjects were very uncomfortable talking about ways that they were kind to themselves.  They seemed to equate self-kindness with self-indulgence, which they saw as a negative trait.

They were a bit more comfortable with the term “self-care” but here again, there was an interesting divide.

They talked about things like getting out in nature or taking a bath or setting aside time to read or visit with a friend. As long as it didn’t involve food, they were comfortable identifying these activities as self-care.

But they were unwilling to see choosing healthy foods or exercising as a way of exercising self-care. They saw these things as something they “should” be doing.  Therefore, doing them didn’t count as self-care or something they were doing to be kind to themselves. 

Isn’t that interesting?

If we can come to see making healthy food and movement choices as a way of showing ourselves kindness, instead of a duty that we may or may not be fulfilling, maybe the notion of self-kindness wouldn’t feel so self-indulgent and dangerous. 

Who Succeeds at Losing Weight?

Losing weight and keeping it off is notoriously hard. Only 10-20% of those who try succeed. What is it that sets these winners (er, losers) apart?

A group of Dutch researchers recently analyzed 67 studies to see if they could identify the key characteristics, or determinants, of long term weight loss.

First, check out what doesn’t matter:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Weight history
  • How often you eat out
  • Your stress level
  • Willpower

That’s right. When it comes to your chances of achieving long-term weight loss, it doesn’t matter how old you are or what kind of neighborhood you live in.  Women, you have just as good a shot at it as men.  Your weight history does not predict your chances of success.  Stress is not a determining factor, nor is how much willpower you have.

What a relief!  Because most of those are things you can’t do much about.

So, what does predict success?  Your habits and your mindset. Specifically:

Habits that fuel success

  • Regularly monitoring your weight (because you can’t manage what you don’t measure)
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables (yum)
  • Exercising portion control (NOT restrictive dieting)
  • Choosing an active lifestyle (NOT exercising your brains out!)

Mindsets that fuel success

  • Confidence in your ability to make positive changes
  • Clarity on your goals and strategies
  • Feeling of self-worth (because you can’t hate yourself healthy)

Unlike your age or your health history, your habits and mindset are things that you have complete control over! And these are precisely the habits and mindsets that we create and reinforce in the Weighless Program.

The case for super slow weight loss

[UPDATED on Sept, 1, 2020 to include new research]

One of the things that sets the Weighless approach apart from other weight loss programs is our emphasis on slow weight loss.  Instead of coaching our members to lose a couple of pounds a week, we try to hold them to a few  pounds a month.

Crazy, right? And yet there is a method to our madness.

The famous (and heartbreaking) “Biggest Loser” study demonstrates just how much damage fast weight can do to your metabolism. After six years, virtually all of the contestants had regained every pound (and more)–despite continuing to eat fewer calories. 

And then there’s the loss of lean muscle.  Most people can only lose 2-3 pounds of body fat per month. If you’re losing weight faster than that, the rest is likely to be lean muscle. Believe me, that’s NOT what you’re trying to lose.

Although our approach may seem like an insanely slow way to lose weight, we’re finding that it’s actually a much quicker (and less unpleasant) path to sustainable fat loss. Interestingly, our members frequently report that after losing weight the “Weighless way,” they look and their clothes fit as if they have lost much more than they actually have.

Losing weight slowly not only preserves your metabolism and muscle mass. It also gives you more time to acquire the habits and practice the skills that will help you maintain a lower weight, heading off the dreaded–and seemingly inevitable–rebound weight gain.

It all makes sense, right? But occasionally, someone in the group will ask if there is published research to support the merits of the super slow pace of weight loss we endorse. Fair enough. I’ve built a reputation for being evidence-based, and most of the people who sign up for my programs cite this as one of the reasons they trust my advice.

Show Me the Research

A few studies have compared the effects of slow vs. fast weight loss. For example:

A 2016 study involving almost 60 subjects found that those who lost weight more slowly lost less muscle mass, which was associated with less weight regain. A similar (but longer) study dating back to 1994 compared the effects of “fast” vs. “slow” weight loss and found that the fast losers lost more weight initially but were much more likely to regain it.

Frustratingly, many of the studies that compare fast and slow weight loss define “slow” as 4-5% of your total body weight per month, which is still too fast by our standards.  But here have been at least two excellent studies where the slow pace is in line with our recommendations.

This 2014 study involved 200 subjects, both men and women. Over the course of the study, the subjects  lost 15% of their starting body weight, on average. The slower group lost at a pace of about 1.5% of their total body  weight per month. The faster group lost at a more typical rate of 4.5% of their total body weight per month.  Although both groups lost the same amount of weight, the slow group lost 10% more body fat and 50% less lean muscle as the faster group. 

This 2018 study by a different research group involved 68 subjects (all men) who lost  6% of their starting body weight. Once again, the slower group lost 1.5% of their total body weight per month and the faster group 4.5% per month. But the difference in body composition was a lot more dramatic. The slower group lost 50% more fat and 75% less lean muscle than the faster group. 

Our approach is certainly informed by research–but it also draws heavily on our experience and common sense. And although we are not (yet) conducting a controlled trial, the results we are seeing and the feedback we are getting from our members are enormously validating.  I think we’re onto something here…and maybe the researchers will take notice.

What’s the best diet for your genetics?

Personalized nutrition is getting a lot of attention these days. Companies will analyze your DNA and tell you what foods and supplements you should and shouldn’t eat based on your genetic profile. But a huge study throws cold water on the idea of matching your diet to your genetics.  Participants with a “low-carb genotype” (who would hypothetically do better on a low-carb diet) were no more successful on a low-carb diet than on a low-fat diet. The same was true for those with a “low-fat genotype.”

The study also found that, overall, low-carb diets are no better or worse than low-fat diets at producing weight loss.  Those are the two headlines from this study. (Examine.com has produced an excellent detailed analysis of the study, if you want to take a deeper dive.)

But there is so much more here that warrants mentioning. Here’s what really got my attention:

None of the study participants were asked to count or limit their calories. Instead, both groups were told to limit their intake of added sugars, refined flour and junk food, and to eat lots of vegetables and whole foods. And that was enough to produce weight loss.  In other words, when you pay attention to the quality of your food choices, the calories often take care of themselves. And when you’re eating a healthy, whole foods diet, low carb is no more effective than low fat.

The other thing that’s notable about this study is that the participants received intensive coaching throughout the year. They were taught how to choose foods that kept them satisfied for fewer calories.   They were encouraged to avoid distracted eating and eat more mindfully. Making sustainable changes was a bigger priority than achieving fast weight loss.  (All of this will sound very familiar to participants of  the Weighless program, our 12-month coaching program for sustainable weight loss.)

At the end of the study, the most successful participants reported having changed their relationship to food. And that’s ultimately what’s required for permanent weight loss. Not calorie or fat or carb counting.

Despite billions spent on dieting, obesity rate hits new high

Americans are spending more on dieting than ever before–more than $60 billion a year.  The percentage of obese adults is also at an all time high of 40%.

Do you think there might be a connection between these two trends?  I do.

Clearly, dieting  is not the solution to the obesity problem. In fact, I think it’s a big part of the problem.

Problem #1:  Even the most “responsible” diets encourage you to lose weight far faster than your body can actually lose fat. As a result, you end up losing a little bit of fat and a lot of water and lean muscle tissue.

Problem #2: Diets teach you how to lose weight but they don’t teach you how to weigh less.  (There’s a big difference.)  As a result, most people will eventually regain all the weight they lose…or more.

Problem #3: When you regain the weight, you don’t gain back the lean muscle that you lost while dieting. You replace it with fat, which makes it even harder to lose weight the next time.

It’s time to try something different

Last summer, my colleague Brock Armstrong and I launched WeighlessTM, a program that shows people how to stop dieting and start weighing less. Weighless is not a diet or exercise program. It’s a structured lifestyle change program that combines nutrition science, behavior modification, professional guidance, and community support.

The results have exceeded even our high hopes. It’s been absolutely exhilarating to see people escape a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and find the path to sustainable weight loss.  I’m more convinced than ever before that diets are not the answer to our obesity epidemic. (They’re a big part of the problem.)

If you think you might be ready to stop dieting and start weighing less, there are more details about the Weighless program here.

Losing weight will shorten your life? Not exactly.

A new study finds that people who lost more than 15% of their body weight over a five year period were actually more likely to die than those who didn’t lose weight. What’s more, the biggest losers were more likely to die than people who gained 20% during the same period.

How can this be? We’re constantly bombarded with headlines about the obesity epidemic and how it’s shaving years off our life span. Are you really better off remaining overweight than losing weight?

[bctt tweet=”Poor health causes weight loss, not the other way around.” username=”nutritiondiva”]

This latest study does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss, nor did it take into account the cause of death. People who are terminally ill tend to lose weight. But there’s a world of difference between losing weight due to serious illness and intentionally losing weight.

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

One way to see this quite clearly is to distinguish between the loss of total body weight and the loss of body fat. The loss of total body weight may be associated with increased mortality. But the loss of body fat is associated with increased life span.

Another way to separate out the effect of wasting disease is to distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss. Previous studies have shown that while unintentional weight loss is associated with increased risk of death, intentional weight loss can reduce mortality by 15%

The Bottom Line(s)

Actually, I have three bottom lines for you

Bottom Line #1. Losing excess body fat will improve your health.

Bottom Line #2. Losing weight slowly will increase the percentage of body fat you lose.

Bottom Line #3. Losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off will do more to improve your health than repeatedly losing and gaining large amounts of weight.

Need help with sustainable weight loss? That’s what the Weighless program is all about. ​Learn more.

Does losing weight really lower your disease risk?

James writes:

“Everyone refers to weight as being a risk factor for various diseases. But is it true that losing weight actually lowers one’s risk?  Or could some other factor be responsible for both disease risk and a higher weight?”

If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight absolutely does reduce your risk of various complications and diseases. Because when you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes.  Losing weight can reduce your blood pressure as well as your fasting blood sugar, for example, and that in turn lowers your risk for stroke and diabetes.

[bctt tweet=” When you lose weight, it’s not just the the number on the scale that changes. ” username=”nutritiondiva”]

And, by the way, losing even a small amount–as little as 5% of your current weight–can significantly reduce your risk of various conditions, even if you are still overweight. For this reason, you’d be better off losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off than losing a large amount of weight and gaining it back!

(And if you’ve had enough of yo-yo dieting, you may be interested in a new project I’m working on.) But keep in mind that having a risk factor for a disease does not mean that you are certain to develop the disease.  If you are a smoker, you are much more likely to develop lung cancer than  a non-smoker. But some smokers don’t get lung cancer–and some non-smokers do.

Which Risk Factors Should We Focus On?

Some disease risk factors are things we can’t change–such as our age, race, gender, or genetic heritage. I’m at higher risk of developing osteoporosis than James is, simply because I’m female.

Other risk factors, such as our body weight, eating habits, exercise, and other lifestyle habits, are within our control. I can lower my risk of developing osteoporosis, for example, by not smoking and getting regular exercise.

No Guarantees So Enjoy the Ride!

Despite what some people will tell you,  there is no way to completely disease-proof your body. All we can do is focus on our modifiable risk factors and hope for the best. And because there are no guarantees, I think it’s important to strike a balance between lowering risk and maintaining quality of life. Or, as my friend Yoni Freedhoff likes to say, “Live the healthiest life you can enjoy living.”

Given up on losing weight?

The number of overweight and obese Americans has climbed steadily in recent decades, from 53% of adults in 1988 to 65% in 2014. At the same time, fewer overweight Americans are trying to lose weight–just 47%, down from 55% back in 1988.

The authors of the study, which was published in JAMA this month, wondered whether we’ve simply made our peace with being fat.

“As more people around us are getting heavier, we simply believe we are fine, and no need to do anything with it,” lead author Liang Zhang told the AP News Service.

That may be part of it.

But I think another big reason that so many have given up is that they’re starting to doubt that permanent weight loss is really possible. And, really, who can blame them?

Who could blame you?

Most people with a substantial amount of weight to lose have tried repeatedly to lose it. Many have succeeded in dropping large amounts of weight only to gain it all back. Multiple times.

Not only is dieting an unpleasant way to spend your life, but research shows that losing weight alters your body chemistry in ways that stack the cards against maintaining a lower weight. Why bother?

Let’s try something different

I have been thinking hard about this problem. I think I know what we’re doing wrong and how to change the equation. It’s not about a special diet or distribution of nutrients or combination of foods, but something else entirely. A few months ago, my colleague Brock Armstrong and I launched a program designed to help people lose weight in a way that both their bodies and their brains can sustain for life. The results have been life-changing for those in the program.

We’re going to be opening enrollment for a new group soon. Click here to learn more about the Weighless Program.