Our nutritionist explains—and reviews—the HMR Diet.
The HMR Diet may not populate news headlines like Keto or Paleo, but this well-established weight-loss program has existed for over 30 years.
In fact, US News & World Report recently named it “Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet” in their 2018 Best Diets list. Originally developed by a behavioral psychologist, HMR’s program focuses on quick weight loss using meal replacement shakes, bars, and prepared entrees, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. “Quick weight loss” is a compelling hook for any diet program—but how does the HMR Diet stack up? Let’s take a closer look at what the HMR Diet is, plus positives, negatives, and potential health concerns.
What is the HMR Diet?
HMR, which stands for "Health Management Resources," offers two variations—a Healthy Solutions diet, which is an “at-home” version, and the Decision-Free Diet which is a more restrictive, medically-supervised version. Both programs are broken into two phases, the first focusing on achieving a goal weight and the second on maintaining that weight.
Healthy Solutions provides approximately 1200 calories and suggests an expected weight loss of 1 to 2 lbs. per week. Program registration, support, and ordering of meal replacement foods are available online or phone. The Decision-Free Diet is similar but lower in overall calories (500 to 800 calories per day) and is designed for individuals who have significant weight to lose. Because of the low calorie level, it is offered only under the supervision of an approved HMR health provider with whom the individual meets with weekly.
What to Eat on the HMR Diet:
The weight loss phase of Healthy Solutions is based on the company’s “3-2-5” guideline, which translates each day to a minimum of:
- 3 HMR shakes
- 2 HMR meals
- 5 total cups of fruits and vegetables
Diet followers are encouraged to mix fruit and vegetable servings (fresh, frozen or canned) into meal replacements to add variety and flavor, and they have the option of eating additional produce or meal replacements if they are still hungry. On the other hand, foods on the Decision-Free Diet appear to focus primarily on meal replacement products to meet the very low calorie parameters.
Individuals get to pick their shake flavors and their prepared entrees. Ranging from 160 to 280 calories per entree, the choices include dishes like cheese and basil ravioli with tomato sauce, mushroom risotto, and turkey chili with beans. Other options include a hot multi-grain cereal and chicken soup to “use anytime to help cut calories” and four types of bars ranging from 150 to 170 calories with about 10g of protein each that are encouraged as between meal snacks and as a way to satisfy a sweet craving.
Essentially, most all foods other than HMR replacements and produce, as well as alcohol, are off-limits or strongly discouraged. Healthy Solutions encourages followers to plan ahead so they can be completely reliant on the “3-2-5” guidelines and not get caught unprepared. In fact, marketing materials go as far as to suggest that dieters avoid restaurants, activities around food, and social activities with food during the weight loss phase of the diet.
Nutrition Profile of HMR Diet:
Calories were generally around 1200 when I analyzed a few days of intake following the 3-2-5 guidelines. From a macronutrient prospective, this breaks down to approximately 64-70% total calories from carbs, 12-18% from fat calories, and 12-16% from protein calories.
In comparison to other popular eating plans, HMR’s macronutrient mix might appear to be significantly higher in carbs and particularly low in fat and protein. However, the diet’s macronutrient breakdown isn’t too far off from the current health recommendations (45-65% carbs, 20-35% fat, and 15-25% protein).
Cost of HMR Diet:
Followers of the Healthy Solutions diet purchase meal replacement products through HMR’s website. The initial shipment costs $189, and provides three weeks of meal replacements items and includes 48 shakes, 42 entrees, 18 hot cereal servings, program materials including recipes for HMR products, and access to an online tracking app.
Bars are an additional cost (24 for $31.20), and there are additional meal replacement products for sale if one wants the option of consume more than the three shakes and two meals per day. Subsequent deliveries are auto-shipped and billed (approx. $189) and contain two weeks of meal replacement shakes and entrees. Individuals are responsible for purchasing all produce to meet the minimum of five cups each day.
Potential Health Benefits of HMR Diet
1. Studies Exist to Support Weight Loss Claims.
Unlike many popular weight loss programs, HMR actually has published data to support its weight loss claims. The effectiveness of both Healthy Solutions and the Decision-Free Diet have been examined in several studies whose results were published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
From these, HMR states that in a 12 to 26 week timeframe the average weight loss on Healthy Solutions is 28 to 37 pounds, on the Decision-Free is 43 to 66 pounds, and that the 59 to 66% of weight loss is maintained up to 7 years later. While the stats are impressive, it’s important to note that all research studies examining HMR’s effectiveness were funded by HMR. It’s also a possibility that other diet programs provide similar results but don’t have the financial abilities to fund scientific studies.
2. Plans Meet Most Diet Restrictions and Preferences.
Most HMR meal replacements are vitamin-fortified, meaning vitamin needs are met, and often exceeded. The shakes are vegetarian and are available in a lactose-free variety for an additional charge. Vegetarian and a few gluten-free entrees are also available. However, products do not meet vegan diet criteria.
3. Plans Include Additional Layers of Support.
Both the Healthy Solutions program and the Decision-Free Diet programs incorporate activity and dietary and lifestyle counseling, two things that are associated with successful weight loss and maintenance.
Activity is encouraged each day, starting small and gradually increasing with the goal being to reach around 2,000-calories burned each week. Healthy Solutions offers weekly free 50-minute group coaching session by phone, something that users have the option to take part in or decline, as well as an online community and support. Decision-Free Diet users receive in-person coaching each week by a health professional at the facility overseeing the program.
Drawback and Health Concerns of HMR Diet
1. Shakes and Entrees Can Be Repetitive.
When following the HMR diet, an individual consumes a minimum of 21 shakes and 14 meal replacement entrees in a week. With a limited number of shake flavors and entrée options, food choice likely get repetitive pretty quickly.
Also, the high level of processing and added ingredients in the meal replacement products may be a concern for some. Total calories—rather than the ingredient quality—appear to be the focus in meal replacement products. Individuals who like variety in their diet or prefer fresh, whole ingredients are likely to be bored, unsatisfied, or both, none of which are an ideal scenario when trying to lose weight.
2. Overall Nutrient Quality Is Uneven.
Most of the meal replacement products are fortified with vitamins and some minerals. Also, total sodium consumption when following a day on Healthy Solutions averaged a lot less than the average intake and below the upper limit (2300mg).
However, other key nutrients appear to be inadequate. The average amount of potassium intake daily was around 2000mg which is not even half of the recommended 4700mg. Additionally, fiber intake was around 13g. Recommendations vary by organization and calorie needs, but typically adults need between 20-35 grams of fiber per day.
3. Avoidance of Social Interaction Can Feel Isolating.
As a dietitian, I’m all about having a game plan for healthy eating before walking into social situations. However, completely avoiding social interaction and events is not something that I’d usually recommend.
While it may help you stay on track calorie-wise that day, this isn’t a practical, long-term solution. Additionally, mental health and well-being are typically better when an individual has social interaction and engagement.
4. Real-Life Adaptability is Questionable.
The concern with HMR, as well as other meal replacement programs, is that they don’t teach real skills in regards to food choices and meal prep. Here’s the result—once you reach your weight loss goal, transitioning off of meal replacement products can be tough since meal prep and cooking skills aren’t relied on during the weight loss phase. HMR states that these skills are addressed in coaching, but the effectiveness of that is questionable. The best way to master these skills for long-term lifestyle changes is to learn them first-hand.
What’s the Verdict on HMR?
The HMR diet is a low-calorie diet that focuses primarily on consuming meal replacements, eliminating the need for most food planning, decision-making, and cooking. This program probably isn’t a good choice for individuals who consider themselves foodies or just like consuming real food (as opposed to shakes and frozen meals). However, for someone who has a large amount of weight to lose, and wants to do so quickly, the plan might be a good option. It also might be appealing to those who want to avoid cooking and meal prep or for those who don’t like to cook.
Either way, it’s important to note that the HMR diet was not designed to be a long-term solution for weight-loss. HMR intends to have you follow the program until your weight loss goal is met, then learn to maintain it.