Both OPTAVIA and HMR take the guesswork out of deciding what to eat when trying to lose weight. Rather than plan a menu, go to the grocery store and prepare homemade meals, you can heat up a quick premade dinner, grab a bar or mix up a shake. While this idea is appealing and the method convenient, is it the best way to sustainably lose weight?
Read on to learn the potential benefits, pitfalls and costs of these two popular diet plans. Our experts delve into why easy plans aren’t necessarily the best if your goal is to lose weight once and for all while maintaining your health and well-being.
Overview: OPTAVIA vs. HMR
If you’ve followed the Medifast plan, OPTAVIA will feel incredibly familiar. In fact, the same team developed both programs and the food products are nutritionally identical.
OPTAVIA is built around “Dr. A’s Habits of Health Transformational System,” consisting of six steps, developed by the cofounder and independent OPTAVIA coach, Dr. Wayne Scott Andersen. The six steps include:
- Prepare for your journey.
- Achieve a healthy weight.
- Transition to healthy eating.
- Live the “Habits of Health.”
- Optimize health for your age.
- Potential to live a longer, healthier life.
“What jumps out at me is that you first achieve a healthy weight and then transition to healthy eating habits,” says Monica Reinagel, a nutritionist, behavior change coach, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast, co-host of the Change Academy podcast and co-founder of the Weighless program, a program designed to help individuals lose weight without dieting. “In my view, the process starts by establishing healthy eating habits, and achieving a healthy weight is the result of that. Reversing that order is a recipe for failure.”
Each member will complete the well-being evaluation online to prepare for the program. The LifeBook that each member uses includes 26 progressive elements. Examples include determining how susceptible you are to food addiction and changing your mindset to “identify the thoughts that don’t serve your health goals.”
Members are also asked to use the Habits of Health app to set meal times and track things such as hydration and daily activity. Recipes for Lean & Green meals are also available on the app. A “Lean & Green” meal contains cooked lean protein paired with three servings of non-starchy vegetables and up to two servings of healthy fats.
The OPTAVIA Optimal Weight 5 & 1 plan jump-starts weight loss and is the most popular plan. Five of your daily meals on this plan will consist of OPTAVIA fuelings, which are prepackaged shakes, bars, snacks and meals. OPTAVIA fuelings contain 24 vitamins and minerals, protein and probiotics. They’re free of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. Any of these products can be swapped out for another, depending on what you’re in the mood to eat. In addition to these fuelings purchased directly from OPTAVIA, you will make one “Lean & Green” meal to eat each day. Members are asked to eat two servings of fatty fish each week, and meatless alternatives are also an option.
Alternatively, the Optimal Weight 4 & 2 & 1 plan calls for four OPTAVIA fueling daily, along with two “Lean & Green” meals and one healthy snack.
The Optimal Health 3 & 3 plan is used to maintain body weight and improve health via three fuelings daily, along with three balanced meals. Individuals on this plan are advised to eat every two to three hours.
Individuals with diabetes or gout and nursing mothers, seniors and teenagers receive customized nutrition advice.
The Health Management Resources diet, commonly called the HMR diet, can be done remotely, with food delivered directly to your home or via regular visits to a local weight-loss clinic. Like OPTAVIA, ready-to-eat HMR meals and shakes are automatically delivered every two weeks. One significant difference between the two plans is that HMR allows for unlimited fruits and vegetables on the Healthy Solutions plan.
Each day you’ll eat a minimum of three HMR shakes, two HMR entrees and five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, the Decision-Free plan calls for only HMR foods with no other foods at all and is completed with in-person medical supervision. Roughly 60 hospitals, medical practices and other facilities offer medically supervised HMR plans. These programs begin with a medical screening. For people with more than 50 pounds to lose, the HMR Decision-Free diet with medical supervision is likely the way to go, according to the company.
It’s recommended that a person sticks with the weight loss phase of the HMR program for at least eight weeks.
The phase 2 HMR program, designed for weight maintenance, is recommended for at least several months, but former members can choose to remain on it forever. In phase 2, you’ll eat fewer HMR-branded foods and instead learn to plan and prepare a whole-foods diet, emphasizing lean protein and whole grains.
You will gradually transition from HMR foods to regular food for four weeks. You’ll initially drop from 35 HMR foods to 14 each week. You’ll also receive advice and coaching to help you maintain physical activity routines, achieve lifelong healthy habits and handle social situations and everyday temptations.
Both OPTAVIA and HMR work hard to promote a social support system for people using the program. Support is offered through calls, webinars and community events. The OPTAVIA community shares their progress on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
Each OPTAVIA client is paired with an independent OPTAVIA coach, 90% of whom were once OPTAVIA clients themselves, and each has a personalized website. Many members also choose to participate in the community support phone calls, led by a coach. Members might opt-in to receive daily supportive text messages as well.
HMR, like OPTAVIA, takes member support seriously, offering weekly group video coaching, app reminders and tips and private Facebook groups that provide live support sessions and mini-challenges. Even through phase 2, weekly group telephone coaching sessions are available.
“I do find that a supportive, professionally led community can be a real plus in achieving a big change,” says Reinagel. “However, social media can encourage unhealthy and unhelpful comparisons to people who seem to be more successful – and things on social media are not always what they seem.”
Moderate activity is recommended on the OPTAVIA plan, such as walking for about 30 minutes daily. People who plan on exercising more than this are encouraged to choose the 4 & 2 & 1 program or the 3 & 3 plan, which are higher calories than the 5 & 1 plan.
HMR members are encouraged to perform moderate exercise throughout the day. HMR coaches recommend that you burn 2,000 calories a week via physical activity. Reinagel says, “I strongly believe that the function of exercise is not to burn calories or to earn food. So I would never give someone a calorie-burning goal for exercise.”
Health Benefits and Weight Loss
It would be challenging not to lose weight on a plan that is as low-calorie as the OPTAVIA or HMR plan. And with weight loss usually comes a decrease in blood lipids and blood glucose. In one 16-week study published in 2019, the average weight loss from OPTAVIA was 11 pounds in 16 weeks. According to the HMR website, customers can expect to lose 23 pounds in 12 weeks.
The calorie levels of both OPTAVIA and HMR are extremely low – averaging between 800 and 1,000 each day for OPTAVIA and 1,200 to 1,500 for the HMR Healthy Solutions plan (500 to 1,000 calories on the medically supervised Decision-Free plan). Both programs provide fewer carbohydrates consumed than the government and most health experts recommend.
“One of my biggest concerns with very-low-calorie diets and fast weight loss is the loss of lean muscle tissue and long-lasting disruption of the metabolism,” explains Reinagel. “Although fast weight loss can be exhilarating, the faster the weight comes off, the less likely you are to maintain it. And by contrast, the slower the weight comes off, the more that weight loss is likely to be actual fat loss and the greater your chance of maintaining it.”
Metabolic derangement and an inability to maintain weight loss are reason enough to avoid crash diets. Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and author of “The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook,” adds, “low-calorie diets, particularly those below one’s resting metabolic rate, can have significant negative consequences, including low energy levels, compromised athletic performance, loss of lean body mass, slowing of the metabolism, loss of bone mass, increased risk of anxiety/depression and more.”
Many well-done studies have proven that the risk of regain is exceptionally high when weight loss is incurred on a low-calorie diet, especially one primarily made up of pre-packaged foods.
The nutrient quality of pre-packaged, processed foods is also a concern for nutrition professionals. “Real food should always come first,” says Harris-Pincus. The nutrients are more bioavailable, and the combination of antioxidants and phytochemicals naturally found in plant foods can’t be effectively duplicated in highly processed packaged products.”
In some instances, consuming the bulk of our nutrients in the form added to processed foods can endanger our well-being, Harris-Pincus explains. “Intact fiber and naturally occurring vitamins/minerals are always preferred. For example, some people have a genetic variant that doesn’t allow them to effectively utilize the synthetic folic acid in fortified foods, which can cause some undesired metabolic issues. The folate found in whole foods is important for these individuals to consume over the form found in processed food.”
Pricing: OPTAVIA vs. HMR
The Habits of Health Transformational System costs $49.95 if bought separately. The system includes “Dr. A’s Habits of Health”, Second Edition, Your LifeBook and the Habits of Health app.
The Habits of Health Transformational System is included in every essential kit.
An essential kit of 119 fuelings costs roughly $378.
Premier members purchase an essential kit and then receive an automatic shipment monthly. These members receive five free boxes of OPTAVIA fuelings in their first order, free shipping, rewards and special offers.
Fuelings can also be purchased separately. Either seven bars in flavors including cranberry honey nut, chocolate mint cookie crisp or double peanut butter crisp or shakes in flavors such as creamy chocolate, caramel macchiato or yogurt berry blast costs $22.25 for a single-flavor box. Other meal options including macaroni and cheese, pancakes and oatmeal cost the same. A few portioned meals such as turkey meatball marinara or ginger lemongrass chicken cost more. Snacks, including popcorn and puffed snacks, cost $11.25 for seven servings.
The regular price to get started on HMR is $220.40 for your first two weeks of HMR foods. After this, you’ll be automatically shipped two weeks of HMR food every 14 days for $209.45 until you cancel.
HMR shake mixes cost as little as $28 for 12 servings and as much as $45 for 18 servings, depending on the calorie content. A single-flavor box of 24 bars costs just over $32 and come in flavors including fudge graham and iced oatmeal. While hot cereal costs about $2.50 a serving, entrees such as mushroom risotto and lasagna cost $4.25 each.
Like the Profile Plan diet, few experts doubt that you will lose weight in the short term if you stick to these diets that rely heavily on prepackaged foods. The concern is what happens once those prepackaged foods disappear. “In my experience, if what you’re doing to lose the weight isn’t sustainable, neither is the weight loss,” says Reinagel. “Relying on prepackaged foods removes a lot of decisions and – to the extent that you are compliant – this will almost certainly result in weight loss.”
Eventually, though, you will need to stop grabbing shakes and bars to sustain yourself. There will be holidays, vacations, late nights, meals out and parties to attend. Life happens.
“The key to maintaining weight loss,” explains Reinagle, “is learning how to navigate the food environment that you will live in for the rest of your life. How to plan and then react when things don’t go according to plan. How to make the best choices from the available imperfect options. Which foods and which portion sizes will allow you to maintain a lower weight without being constantly hungry.”
“Relying on prepackaged meals is not sustainable in the long run,” agrees Harris-Pincus. “The most important part of any weight loss strategy is sustainability. If it’s something you cannot do for the rest of your life, you are very likely to regain any weight lost shortly after deviating from the rigidity of the diet plan.”