Intermittent fasting dominated 2019 — ranking number one in Google's most-searched diets of the year. But 2020 might be the year of the HMR Program, according to U.S. News & World Report, which ranked the diet first for fast weight loss. We're just not so sure this is a good thing.
What Is the HMR Program?
The Health Management Resources Program, better known as the HMR Program, is a pre-packaged food plan created about 30 years ago by Dr. Lawrence Stifler. It's been tested and continues to be used as a weight-loss approach in clinical settings. Many hospitals like NYU Langone Health, UC San Diego Health and Henry Ford Health System in Detroit use HMR as a weight-loss program at their facilities.
The program touts "easy and convenient meal delivery" while providing you "a break from making any food decisions." There are three plans to choose from; the most basic includes digital support and a starter kit of meals and shakes, and the program claims that it can help you lose 12 pounds in just three weeks. On the higher end, there's a plan with digital support plus in-person support plus all of the HMR weight-loss foods, and that one claims to help you lose between 28 to 38 pounds in just 12 weeks.
What You Can (and Cannot) Eat on the HMR Program
The HMR at Home Program plan provides 1,200 to 1,500 calories each day and is broken into two phases.
During the first phase, you're allowed to eat three HMR shakes, two HMR entrees and five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. You stay in phase one until you reach your goal weight or until you're ready to have less structure in your diet. A sample day on phase one might look like:
- Breakfast: HMR Multigrain Hot Cereal with 1 cup of fruit
- Snack: HMR Chocolate Shake
- Lunch: HMR Penne Pasta with Meatballs and 2 cups of vegetables
- Snack: 1 cup of fruit
- Dinner: HMR Savory Chicken and 2 cups of vegetables
- Snack: HMR Vanilla Shake with 1 cup of frozen fruit
If you're still hungry at the end of the day, the program recommends having an HMR pudding or bar to satisfy your snack craving.
Phase two, which is supposed to last four to eight weeks, is a transition phase where you begin to eat less HMR-specific foods and begin to incorporate healthy "non-HMR low-calorie foods."
On the HMR program, especially during the first phase, you are encouraged to only eat HMR foods along with fruit and vegetables. The website has a database of recipes, but they all call for specific HMR foods that you then add to. One example is an Italian Tomato Bisque recipe which calls for combining the HMR Lasagna with the HMR 500 Chicken Soup along with canned stewed tomatoes, Molly McButter (yes, you read that right) and fat-free sour cream.
The Pros and Cons of the HMR Program
As with anything, there are positives and negatives to this diet. In our opinion, though, the bad outweighs the good. Here's our breakdown.
- Meal delivery: Who doesn't love the ease of a meal-delivery program? No cooking required here, nor having to think about what you're going to eat.
- Lots of fruits and veggies: More specific to this diet is the abundance of fruits and vegetables promoted at each meal. The diet encourages at least five servings each day, which is right in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- It works: The diet is endorsed and used by hospitals across the country because, like almost any diet, it will help you lose weight. But as we know, sustainable weight loss and better overall health are more important than a quick drop on the scale — more on that below.
- It's expensive: The cost of the diet means it isn't accessible to everyone. The typical cost for three weeks of shakes and food delivery is about $300, and you still need to supplement with trips to the supermarket.
- Sodium is an issue: HMR foods can be high in salt. For instance, the previous example of the Italian Bisque Soup recipe provides over 1,800 milligrams of sodium per serving — that's about 80 percent of your total daily sodium needs in just one meal, according to the American Heart Association.
- The food is packed with additives: The HMR foods and ingredients called for in recipes are also packed with artificial flavors, sweeteners and additives. Adding Molly McButter — that is, butter-flavored "sprinkles" made with maltodextrin — to the Italian Bisque Soup is a prime example. A shake recipe calls for "sugar-free white chocolate syrup," and the HMR protein powders themselves contain the artificial sweetener aspartame.
- It can be socially isolating: According to U.S. News' reporting, the diet also recommends you "consider temporarily limiting social activities that center around food" while on the diet. Any diet that encourages restricting your social life so that you can sit at home and carefully monitor your food intake isn't a sustainable diet in our books. The diet is essentially saying you can't have both — a healthy diet and a social life — that they're mutually exclusive. The diet is failing to teach someone how to live a healthy life, which includes a healthy relationship with food while also maintaining social and fruitful relationships with friends and loved ones.
A Healthier Approach to Weight Loss
Any diet that claims you'll "lose weight quickly" while making you 100 percent reliant on their foods to do so is one where you should proceed with caution. Especially when those foods are high in sodium and subpar ingredients and you're encouraged to limit any part of your social life that may center around food.
We understand the desire to lose weight quickly, but what is the point if it's not sustainable? Instead, a slower, more long-term approach that includes focusing on whole foods versus ultra-processed foods and shakes is the healthier route to go.
Indeed, researchers in a study published May 2019 in Cell Metabolism broke a group into two: An ultra-processed group and a less-processed, more whole foods group. Both groups were given the same amount of food to eat each day (matched for calories), but the processed group naturally ate about 500 more calories each day and ended up gaining a pound over the course of two weeks.
Shifting away from relying on ultra-processed foods and eating a healthier, whole foods-based diet may be better for our health and our waistlines in the long run.
Need more help? Check out How to Find the Best Weight Loss Diet for You
- Google Trends: "Year in Search 2019"
- U.S. News & World Report: "Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets"
- NYU Langone Health: "Weight-Loss Program, Created by HMR and offered at NYU Winthrop Hospital, Ranks #1 as “Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet” for Third Consecutive Year"
- UC San Diego Health: "Bariatric and Metabolic Institute"
- Henry Ford Health System: "HMR at Home"
- Cell Metabolism: "Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- American Heart Association: "How much sodium should I eat per day?"