Thursday, October 24, 2019

Graduation Day! (A Noom Review)

259 Days. 37 Weeks. The last time I thought about those numbers was when I was pregnant. 37 weeks was considered the first full-term marker. After 37 weeks you could breathe a small sigh of relief. And so it was with me today.

Sixteen weeks into the program I did an in-depth review  which I'm pasting here rather than go over it all again. There is nothing in this first review that I would change as a result of the other 16 weeks. After this review section I'll talk about those additional weeks in the program.

It's hard to believe that I've been working on the Noom lifestyle change program for 16 weeks now. The time has flown by, not entirely due to Noom, but also to the fact that we've moved into a new apartment, helped our daughter fix up, pack, and clean their house that they sold, helped them move into their new house, and then moved out of our apartment and into the carriage house above the garage in our daughter's new home. All in 16 weeks.

The initial Noom program is 16 weeks in length. During that time, the NoomNerds (yes it's a real term) taught me about not only how and what to eat, but why I eat the things that I do. Each morning I open the Noom app and am presented with a screen for today. It includes a tab to weigh in (something you do every morning), a tab to log your meals for the day using their food database, and a couple tabs of lessons, or tasks, to complete. In the beginning, the lessons are light-hearted and a bit on the high school cheer leader-ish rah rah side, a point that almost led me not to sign up after my two-week free trial. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not the rah-rah cheerleader type. I realize the seriousness of being overweight, and I want professional help to deal with it. the end of the two week trial period I was down 6.2 pounds so I decided to sign up and stick with it. The cost for the 16 weeks was $129. I measured that against my previous weight loss program through Weight Watchers, where I am a lifetime member, and it would have totaled $203. So I took the plunge. I'm glad I stuck with it because as you progress through the weeks the approach becomes less cheerleader-ish and more serious. If you were to find professional counseling with the same content, you wouldn't find even one session of this quality of counseling for the price you're paying for 16 weeks of Noom.

The early lessons help you to form your Big Picture: your end goal, why you want to attain that goal, and how your life will be different as a result. Right off the bat your focus is led inward to self reflection rather than an obsession with popular body image or scale numbers. There are lessons that help you to identify what type of eater you are, types of triggers and what trigger causes you to overeat, unhealthy thought distortions and healthy ways to measure success.

Right at the beginning you're paired with an individual coach. The coach checks in with you once a week, but he/she is available to you via the Noom message app whenever you need help. There is usually a delay in response time due to the fact that most of these folks have other jobs as well, but I never had a time when I felt like a question or need wasn't answered. I did have one issue early on with the coaching system. The individual coaches are clearly following a script in their coaching and a lot of times the script just didn't apply to me. I understand the need for some cross-program standardization in their individual coaching, but there needs to be more individual shaping of the coaching depending on the individual in the program. To explain this better, the average person signing up for Noom appears to be middle-aged and in the prime of their high-stress work environment. I, on the other hand, am retired, so I have virtually no stress in my life at all. In addition, I'm in the absolute perfect environment to have success on this program. I have all the time in the world to research, plan, shop, and prepare healthy food. I have excellent sources of healthy food close by.  I have 7 grandkids within shouting distance to walk with and get lots of exercise. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. So my needs are not about stress, but about persistence. As we progressed along, my coach began to get to know my needs and help was more appropriate, so all is well now and I find her support very valuable.

At the end of the two-week free trial you are placed in a group of people who started at the same time. My group consisted of about 50 people, but only about 20 actually ever participated in the group messaging. Our group is incredibly supportive, full of ideas, has a great sense of humor, and a very talented group coach. It has been a tremendously positive experience, but I understand from a few other folks that their groups are not quite as good, so this may not be a universal experience. The absolute key to a successful group is kindness, encouragement and respect. If you can't be kind, encourage those not like you, and respect the fact that different things work for different people, then be silent. At the beginning of our group we had one member that was caustic, was deeply critical of anyone who was doing different things than what she thought was the best way. It got so bad that the offending member had to be transferred out. If you find you're in a similar situation, don't hesitate to be proactive and to get with your individual coach about the issue so they can take care of it before it gets out of hand.

Now, a word to the Noom app. This is my one and only serious gripe with Noom. Their technology is very, very behind the times. The messaging app has a few major flaws, such as the fact that there are no "threads," just a running conversation. This makes it almost impossible to locate a previous message that you wanted to save (like a link to a recipe online or something.) There is also a serious flaw in the messages read function. If you go into the group conversation the new messages will have a NEW flag on them and new comments will be highlighted in red. All good so far, but if you only read the first one and then have to go do something else and leave the screen, when you come back all the new messages will no longer be flagged new. It appears that the NEW function is per entry into the conversation, not on a message-by-message basis. With so many really good messaging platforms out there it's hard to believe that they couldn't find one to use that allows threads and flagging based on individual messages. Granted, I'm a techie, but I hear a lot of other people complaining about the same issue.

The second technological issue is with the food database. While there are some good aspects to it like being able to save a meal that you eat frequently, I've found a ton of errors in the database itself. A huge percentage of brand-specific foods that I log are not correct according to the package I'm looking at and generic foods are not specific enough in their description. Since I've found over 100g difference in some of the apples that I eat, I've taken to weighing each one and logging by grams rather than just "1 apple." Don't depend on the barcode scanner either without verifying the calories on the label of the product. A huge percentage of them are wrong. Another very minor issue is that if you plan all of your meals in the morning, you have to go all the way back out to the main menu between each meal which is several screens. There should be a function that allows you to save that meal and enter the next, a suggestion I've made and has been forwarded to the appropriate people.

Another very minor issue for me was the lack of program instruction in the beginning. There was very little instruction on how to use the food database and it was weeks before I found out I could save my meals. I was almost to the end of the sixteen weeks before I found out I could share a meal to the group.  It took days before I even figured out I could log my exercise. There are a lot of things that make the journey easier and I feel like there should be a tutorial that shows you all of these things. There is a help section in the menu but it's not very complete or intuitive. A simple tutorial with all of the shortcuts would be extremely helpful. I suspect that you could find most of these shortcuts given the time, but in the beginning you are so overwhelmed by what you're learning that it's hard to spend hours a day playing with obscure buttons to see what they do. I also felt a little lost as I approached the end of the sixteen weeks. I needed more information on what would happen if I did or did not sign up for another session so I could make an informed decision, help I needed without asking a hundred questions of my coach.

One of the most profound differences between Noom and any other method I've used to lose weight is the fact that Noom is not a diet program. It's a lifestyle change program. While they will teach you how to choose foods that will benefit your overall health, they don't specify what foods. They stress balance and variety, but one whole week of lessons is dedicated to looking at different food choices like low carb, high protein, vegetarian, vegan, intermittent name it. The emphasis is in getting away from labeling food as "good" or "bad" and in saying "I choose to or not to eat such and such." The emphasis is on balanced, whole health including food, activity and happiness. The other huge difference is that the program is designed to train you to be able to do it on your own. No lifetime membership required here. They want you to build good habits, to learn to make good choices, to better your health and happiness and then....they kick you free. Yes, you heard me right. I'ts a scary prospect, a bit like I'm sure little birds feel when they get thrust from the cozy nest, but let's face it folks. We're grownups and we can learn to do this without somebody monitoring our weight and progress with a weekly meeting. Not to say you're left without support if you need it. The relationships that you form with your group members go on after you leave. We've all exchanged emails and I formed a closed group on Facebook so we can keep in touch.

So at the end of my first sixteen-week session, and as I sign up for another sixteen-week session to cement these new habits over a maintenance period, what's my takeaway?

In sixteen weeks I...

lost 35.4 pounds
took 1,171941 steps
walked 506 miles
climbed 2,088 floors of stairs
learned to take the stairs instead of the elevator
learned to correctly estimate portions
learned to change my all-or-nothing approach to success
made my husband a much happier home environment

What makes Noom different? Because it's not a diet. It's a course in YOU.

It's important to note that if you don't like to take an honest look at your motivations then this program will not likely work for you.

It takes about an hour a day for me to work through the tasks and to log my meals. Then there's the increased exercise which takes about another hour a day for me. So if you want to try Noom, be sure that you have the time to properly commit to it, and the desire for genuine success, even if it means discovering some things about yourself that you don't really like.

Six months ago I would never have believed you if you had said I would be here at my goal weight again. I had given up hope, pretty settled in the belief that I would be fat the rest of my life. I was very unhappy with my body, with myself and my lack of ability to fix this. So to say that on this day at the end of my sixteen weeks I am a different person is an accomplishment of huge proportions. So the final end-all be-all is the question, "Would I recommend Noom to someone else?" And to this I can only answer an emphatic "Yes!" 

At week 21 you have two choices. You can either have your coach reset you back to the beginning and you can go through the lessons again, or you can continue on to what they call "Post Core" which is a maintenance training program. If you're not at goal weight yet, then most people reset to the earlier lessons to refresh their memories on core principles. On May 4th I had reached my old Weight Watcher goal of 155# but my doctor recommended that I try for a lower weight at my age and current height. (It seems that I've shrunk almost 2" over my life due to a back injury many years ago.) After some checking he recommended 145# as my new goal. Since I was very close to that goal at the end of the 20 weeks I decided to go straight into the maintenance portion. I reached my new goal on June 18. I continued to lose a bit more while figuring out what my new maintenance calorie budget was going to be and I've been firmly below 140# for over three months now.

The Post Core section of the program is kind of like a baby bird getting pushed out of the nest but the momma bird still brings it food while it flaps around pretty helplessly on the ground. The lessons are all reviews of key principles and there are only one or two of them each day. There is only a weekly required weigh-in but the tabs for daily food logging and exercise are there to be used. They assume by this point that you're ready to discipline yourself to log your food and exercise without constant reminders.

Some Noomers that I've spoken with don't like the Post Core program. I admit it was a bit scary at first, that being pushed out of the nest. There was this sudden realization that you have to be the grown-up in the room and no one is going to do it for you. I quickly adapted to it and was actually rather pleased to find that it gave me confidence to do it on my own. By the end of my second 4-month session I was ready to graduate. In reviewing my notes, I found a quote that showed up at the 15 week mark in one of the tasks:

   "While you'll always be a part of the Noomily, (Noom nerds name for the Noom family...) once you've developed, practiced, and solidified the skills you need to lead a healthy lifestyle today and every day going forward, we want you to be on your merry way."

That's one of the unique things about Noom. No, they don't want you to pay a membership fee for the rest of your life. No, they don't want you to buy their brand name food the rest of your life. They want you to learn, grow, and do it on your own. I was a little taken aback by this. Every other diet/food plan I've ever participated in wanted you attached at the hip for life.

Now that I've graduated, I've entered a new phase for me. I'm still using the app to log my weight, food, and exercise daily. I'm using a journal to jot my thoughts down. I'm learning to see this new me, this healthy me, this active me for whom food is a part but not the controlling whole. It's  been an amazing ride, this journey with Noom, one I'm forever grateful for. How appropriate that the upcoming Thanksgiving season is my season for celebration.

So if you have any doubt about whether to take the Noom plunge, take a look inside and see if you're ready to be honest with yourself, then dive right in. I promise you that the results of your hard work will be worth it.

After: at goal

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