Life is already complicated, why restrict yourself? She wanted to create a platform for open discussion on nutrition and wellness topics, considering all the information circulating around these days. Was she always interested in nutrition? No. In the not so long ago past she worked in the fashion industry and hated it. (Joke to herself: She got a B.S in Fashion Merchandising…get it?) She decided to make a change, go back to school and became involved in food policy and public health. Update: She loves what she does and wants to share as much as possible. Check out her work and learn more here.
Noom vs Weight Watchers vs Way – An Honest Exploration
There are a lot of different programs out there designed to change the way you eat and how you feel about your body. It can be hard to figure out which one is the right one for you. If you are looking for a way to develop healthier eating habits, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices available.
In this post, we’ll dive into three popular programs: Noom, Weight Watchers, and Way. We’ll take a look at how each one works and what the pros and cons of each are, so you can determine which of them is the best fit for your goals.
An Overview of Noom
Noom is one of the biggest weight loss programs out there. It works via a combination of of food restrictions, regular exercise, and cognitive behavioral psychology. It’s sold as a flexible program, one in which you don’t have to restrict yourself to only eating at certain times of the day or follow a rigid meal plan. However, this flexibility only goes so far.
Noom assigns color codes to each kind of food that give you an idea of the food’s nutrient density. Green-coded foods have a lot of nutrients and relatively few calories. Red-coded foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Yellow-coded foods are somewhere in between. You use the Noom app to scan food barcodes or look up items to get their color code. You use this color code to keep track of the calories and nutrients you take in every day and to stay within the limits set by the Noom program. So, while you have a bit of flexibility in which foods you choose, your selection is limited mostly to low-calorie choices.
The Noom app also uses cognitive behavioral psychology to help users identify and understand their feelings about food and fitness and also understand how those feeling can change your thoughts and actions. It helps users keep track of their exercise habits, as well as physical metrics like blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar. Finally, it offers users access to professional advice and support, and gives users daily challenges and games to keep them engaged and motivated.
An Overview of Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers is all about meeting strict food restriction goals through use of a points system. The core of the Weight Watchers program is keeping close track of the calories you consume throughout the day. Weight Watchers assigns a point value to every food that is based on its nutrition and calorie content. Each user is assigned a daily point value that they can eat, one which is determined by their weight, height, age, and activity level. There are also a few extra points available each week that users can use for comfort eating, a few extra sides here and there, or a special event like a cookout. The Weight Watchers app also keeps track of your activity level so you can get a better picture of your nutritional needs.
Weight Watchers is famous for its community support. There is a large Weight Watchers community that the app gives users access to, along with all the advice and support that the community can provide. Part of this community support involves public weigh-ins, to inspire people to make their best efforts. These public weigh-ins are not mandatory, but they are a big part of the Weight Watchers community support effort
An Overview of Way
Noom and Weight Watchers function in similar ways at their cores: they rely on tracking calories, although they use different systems for doing so. Way is different from both of them. It is a new mindful eating app. It focuses on listening to and understanding your body rather than weight loss. It works on intuitive eating principles.
Instead of focusing on calorie counting, the Way app helps its users develop a different, healthier approach to eating, by learning how to listen to their body and feel safe from the shame, guilt, and failure of restrictive diets. It is a more mindful, intuitive approach that is not focused on denial of user wants and needs but instead encourages them to come into natural alignment with their body while changing eating habits.
The Way app offers multiple series of guided exercises and journal prompts that help its users explore their relationship with both food and their own bodies. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) techniques to guide you to listening to your body, simply building a very personal practice and habits around self-compassion, and helping learn to cope with stress and emotions in ways that don’t involve shaming yourself or feeling guilt about food.
Way is not marketed specifically as a “weight loss” program. However, many of its users have reported not only losing weight, but feeling better about their bodies as a result of following the app’s techniques and principles. Which only makes sense. After all, healthier eating habits should indeed produce better health, even if weight is not a good measure of health.
Restrictive Dieting vs Mindful Eating
Both Noom and Weight Watchers have their fans. Indeed, they’re two of the most popular weight management programs available. However, they both suffer from a serious problem. The same serious problem, in fact. And that problem is the use of a restrictive approach to weight loss.
Users of both programs are given a daily calorie allowance (although Weight Watcher’s approach is more precise about it). They are encouraged to keep to that limit in order to lose weight. This approach can be effective in the short term, and that’s a big part of why these programs are so popular. However, this restriction can also lead to feelings of deprivation and loss, which often leads to a binge eating episode, followed by shame/guilt, which then leads to more restriction. Besides the physical health failure, the mental health, mental well-being, and anguish can be exhausting and damaging.
And because they can lead to such negative emotions, it can be difficult to maintain a restrictive diet over the long term. It requires constant vigilance and self discipline. Nobody can be vigilant and self-disciplined all the time. Sooner or later you’ll be low on resources (mentally, emotionally, or both), faced with highly stressful circumstances, or in a bad mood, and find you can’t force yourself to follow a rigid plan that disconnects you from your natural body signals in those moments. So, in the long run, restrictive diets don’t tend to do very well for many if not most people. Of course they don’t, you’re constantly fighting your own nature and needs in order to maintain them. Probably a big reason why restrictive diets have that now famous 83% failure rate.
Way’s approach is fundamentally different from those of Noom and Weight Watchers, and other programs like them. By taking a more mindful and intuitive approach to eating, users don’t focus on strict rules or limits. Their efforts aren’t aimed at self-denial. Instead, Way encourages its users to listen better to their body’s signals, to all of their hunger and fullness cues.
Once you learn to really listen to and understand what your body is telling you that you need, it’s so much easier to separate out genuine hunger from emotional need, to differentiate eating for the taste or dopamine from eating because you are not full. Way also encourages its members to explore how their emotions influence what they eat, and guides them in how to get curious in understanding and having compassion for those emotions and where they come from. And once you understand what your real needs and wants surrounding food are, it’s so much easier and more natural to make good choices about what to eat, that make your body feel good.
Flexibility vs. Rigidity
Noom and Weight Watchers’ strict requirements for daily calorie intake are also too much of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight management. They give you the exact same calorie allotment every day of your life, as if every day of your life was exactly the same, with the same needs. That is, of course, not how real life works. Some days are super stressful or busy. Some are physically demanding. Some days are much more manageable with a little extra comfort food. Real life requires real flexibility.
This is eventually and inevitably going to cause a serious mismatch between your calorie needs and your calorie intake. And that’s another factor that makes restrictive diets so hard to maintain in the long run. When you need more energy in order to deal with a difficult set of circumstances and you’re not getting it, there’s an enormous pressure to “cheat” on your calorie limits. The preposterousness to call it “cheating” in the first place is uncouth, implying their program is superior to listening to your body. The body is the most intelligent and efficient system humans have ever studied – learning to listen to your body over a restrictive diet seems to be the better default.
And, once you do “cheat”, it’s so easy to tell yourself something like, “Well, I’ve already blown past my limit, so I might as well go ahead and finish off those éclairs.” And that’s a big part of why restrictive diets so often lead to binge eating episodes and feeling shame and/or guilt around food – which then causes more restriction, deprivation, and more binge eating. The cycle is vicious if you play into it, which is why the first rule of Intuitive Eating is to “reject the diet mentality”.
Sure, both Noom and Weight Watchers try to add a little flexibility to their programs, such as Weight Watchers’ weekly “extra calories” allowance. But it’s not a lot of flexibility. The diets are still extremely rigid.
Here, too, Way is a “non diet” and takes a fundamentally different approach from the other programs. It’s built around flexibility and freedom in eating. There are no limits, because that’s not what Way is all about. Way teaches users to be mindful, to be aware of their bodies. If your body is telling you that you need more food or a different kind of food, Way advises you to listen. This approach is much more sustainable over the long term, because it allows for greater flexibility and freedom.
Mental Health Effects
Potentially even more serious than the other issues is the mental health effects of restrictive dieting programs, such as Noom and Weight Watchers. These programs categorize foods as “good” or “bad” based on their calorie and nutrition values. This can create an unhealthy conceptualization of and relationship with food. And when you start thinking of food in terms like that, you start thinking of yourself in the same terms. If you eat “bad” foods then you must be a “bad” person, right? That’s exactly the sort of association that people’s subconscious minds are so very prone to making. And that will inevitably lead to feelings of guilt or shame when you consume those foods.
Then there’s also the constant “self discipline” required to maintain a restrictive diet over the long term – which again, is preposterous that following to a restrictive diet is more important to be disciplined to, over listening to your body. Society prizes self discipline, so if you fail at your diet, even just by going past the calorie limits a little, it’s all too easy to take this as a sign of a deeper, moral failing, of laziness and a lack of self discipline. Well, repeatedly thinking and feeling such things about yourself, as a long term restrictive diet can so easily lead to, is really not good for your mental health.
And Weight Watchers’ famed community support system is not really as supportive as a lot of people need. Those public weigh-ins too often lead to guilt and shame, and not nearly so often to extra weight loss.
Don’t forget the stress, either. Constantly denying yourself things you want or need is stressful. So is the constant exercise of self discipline. And long term stress is famous for having bad effects on your mental heal. On your physical health of course, too. Stress and chronic stress contribute to inflammation, and chronic inflammation is well studied to be a primary cause of over 50% of the known diseases – including the biggest ones like Cardiovascular Disease.
And, of course, these negative thoughts and feelings often lead to people going back to binge eating, which is a common way of coping with negative emotions. And that completely defeats the purpose of the diet.
Way does not have these issues. Because it does not rely on restrictions, it doesn’t have these effects. Instead, by teaching users to transform their understanding of and relationship with food, Way encourages its users to develop more positive emotions around it.
Ease of Use
There’s also the “ease of use” factor. Noom and Weight Watchers can both be, well, rather annoying to use. You’re constantly having to scan barcodes or, worse, look foods up in the app’s catalogue to find their ratings. That takes a lot of time and effort. It often doesn’t “allow” for spontaneous snacking. Because Way avoids all of that restrictive dieting mess, it isn’t nearly so cumbersome. Just show up, be honest, and be open to self-exploration.
While each program has something to recommend it, Way is the clear winner. Its lack of restrictive limits means that it doesn’t suffer from the problems the other programs do. Its “listening to and working with your body instead of against it” approach is much easier to maintain in the long run. It’s well worth a look. Which is probably why Way was named the 2023 Best Non-Diet App by Healthline.