The HMR Diet Can Help You Lose Weight Fast—but Is It Safe? A Nutritionist Weighs In
There are countless weight-loss plans to choose from, but the simple truth is this: What works for one person just may not click for another. Some people need a plan with lots of choices and variety, or one that allows them to cook. Others prefer an ultra-streamlined approach, in which all of the food is provided and options are minimized.
If you’re in the latter group, one program to consider is HMR, which stands for Health Management Resources. Here's how to follow HMR, the number of calories and types of foods you're allowed, and my thoughts as a registered dietitian nutritionist as to whether it's safe, healthy, and can result in long-term weight loss.
How to follow the HMR diet
U.S. News and World Report ranked HMR the number one diet for fast weight loss. The company’s simple 3+2+5 Healthy Solutions plan includes 3 shakes per day and 2 pre-made meals (which you purchase from HMR) and 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables that you supply yourself.
The structured approach also recommends daily tracking using the HMR app, and incorporating physical activity, such as a few daily walks. Participants typically lose 23 pounds on average within 12 weeks. The company also offers an even lower calorie medically supervised option, which can result in significantly greater weight loss for obese people. (More on this below.)
The plan provides roughly 1,200 calories a day, and a starter kit that contains three weeks worth of meals costs about $300. However, this phase is designed to last until you hit your goal, which may take much longer. The program also includes support, via the app, and weekly group phone sessions led by a “health coach” who offers cheerleading and problem solving.
The goal is to transition to a maintenance plan, which reduces the reliance on HMR foods and teaches healthy lifestyle skills, including meal planning and prep, plus how to navigate social situations while you're trying to lose weight.
The benefits of HMR
In all of my years counseling clients, I have learned that it’s important to know your personality in order to determine if any particular approach is doable and sustainable for you. Both ultimately determine a successful (or disastrous) outcome, as well how you’ll feel emotionally as you’re shedding pounds.
For example, if fewer choices make you feel restricted and trigger cravings, a plan like HMR isn’t the best choice. But if you’re the type of person who thrives on structure and repetition, and you feel freed by not having to make decisions about what and how much to eat, an approach like this may work well. And if you need to see some quick weight loss in order to build momentum and boost your motivation to transition to a longer term healthy eating pattern, a ready-to-eat approach may fit.
Drawbacks to know about
There are few things I don’t like about HMR, however. My number one issue is the ingredients. The shakes contain the artificial sweetener saccharin and artificial flavor, and they are dairy and egg-based. I did not see an option for those with dairy or egg allergies or sensitivities on the HMR site.
Also, the entrees are shelf stable (not frozen) and highly processed. While some are better than others, I did spot ingredients like carrageenan, which has been linked to inflammation, as well as preservatives and soy, another common allergen.
My other red flag concerns long-term results. While I appreciate the fact that the program emphasizes produce from day one, supplies group support, and teaches lifestyle changes, I’ve seen people use these types of programs as quick fixes before rebounding right back to old habits. There doesn’t seem to be solid data on how HMR participants do at keeping weight off for good.
One study, which looked at the very low calorie diet (VLCD) HMR option, was unable to determine outcomes past one year. Researchers also noted some risks associated with very VLCD approaches, including constipation and gallstones. The latter may be three times more common in VLCDs compared to more traditional low calorie approaches.
Finally, HMR or any plan like it is challenging when socializing. Dining out is pretty much off limits in phase one, and getting through holidays and special occasions can be difficult—not just for the dieter but also for friends and family.
Should you try the HMR diet?
Before spending money and committing to any diet, have a heart to heart with yourself. Imagine not the weight loss but your daily life following a certain plan. How do you think you’ll feel physically, emotionally, and socially—even if you are losing weight? Can you picture yourself realistically sticking to the program and feeling excited about it two weeks, four weeks, and six weeks in?
Ultimately to see success with HMR, you will need to focus on lifestyle changes. For many people it may be best to simply start there, accept a slower rate of weight loss, and foster healthy habits that have real stick-with-it-ness.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.