What Is the 5-Factor Diet?

In This Article

Fruit and vegetables forming a hand shape
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The 5-Factor Diet is a weight loss program developed by celebrity fitness trainer Harley Pasternak with Myatt Murphy. According to the book authors, the diet plan has helped shape some of the hottest bodies in the country. And if you can count to five, you have an idea of the plan's basic principles.

What Experts Say

"On the 5-Factor Diet, people eat five meals a day, each consisting of five components: protein, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, and fluid. Experts agree this meal planning technique is based on sound nutrition principles. Combined with regular exercise, it should support weight loss."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

Background

Pasternak is a fitness trainer with a roster of celebrity clients. First published in 2006, his book "The 5-Factor Diet" outlined the plan that he said he used with stars looking to lose weight or keep it off: Eat five meals a day made up of just five ingredients from five food groups. Plus, do five five-minute exercises every day. Pasternak even provided recipes that he said could be prepared in five minutes or less. A few years later, he followed up with "The 5-Factor World Diet," with recipes that used the foods and "nutritional habits" from what he called the world's "healthiest countries," including Japan, Sweden, and Italy.

How It Works

The key principle of the 5-Factor Diet is to eat five meals each day. The meals must be made up of five nutritional components: a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, fiber, a "good" fat, and a sugar-free drink. The food choices Pasternak recommends are based on the glycemic index (GI), which rates foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels.

Eating foods with a low GI, as well as high-fiber foods, may help control cravings and prevent overeating by keeping your blood sugar stable. Pasternak provides some additional key points behind the basis of his diet, including the importance of both protein and fiber as they relate to weight loss and good nutrition in general.

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Lean proteins

  • Complex carbohydrates

  • Healthy fats

  • Sugar-free drinks

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Refined carbs

  • High-glycemic foods

  • Sweetened beverages

Lean Proteins

Pasternak advises including protein in all five daily meals. And the protein should be lean: fish, egg whites, skinless chicken, and so on.

Complex Carbohydrates

Again, include some in all meals. These carbohydrates could come from whole grains, legumes (also a source of protein), or fruits and vegetables, as long as their glycemic index is not too high (under 80). Most of these carbs will also be a good source of fiber, which is another of the five essential components of each daily meal.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats help you feel full and provide some nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids. You'll find them in fish, avocados, and cooking oils including olive, grapeseed, and canola.

Fluids

The fifth "factor" is fluid. With every meal, drink a sugar-free beverage, such as water, unsweetened tea, or even diet soda.

Refined Carbohydrates

Pasternak recommends avoiding simple carbs, like those found in white bread, white rice, pasta and so on.

High-Glycemic Foods

The target glycemic index level of 80 actually leaves room for a lot of foods to be included in this eating plan. For example, a white potato has an average GI in the high 80s, but sweet potatoes and bananas are under the limit. So are white bread (one slice) and pasta (one cup).

Recommended Timing

Eating five meals a day (or three meals and two hearty snacks) is one of the keys to the 5-Factor Diet. The idea is to avoid feeling very hungry and reaching for something unhealthy to satisfy a craving. Since the five meals contain protein, fiber, and fats, they should help you stay full, too.

Resources and Tips

"The 5-Factor Diet" contains recipes as well as an exercise plan. Pasternak says getting regular exercise is 50 percent of his strategy and states that you must exercise five days a week to get the full benefit. He suggests five exercises, to be done five days each week, that take about five minutes each to do. Photos and step-by-step instructions for exercises are provided in the book.

Modifications

This diet could be adapted for use by people who are vegetarian or eat a gluten-free diet. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, use caution, because the diet is not personalized and may contain the wrong levels of carbohydrates, sodium, or protein for you.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Provides healthy eating guidelines

  • Exercise is included

  • Realistic weight-loss targets

  • No supplements required

Cons

  • Can be hard to follow away from home

  • 5-ingredient recipes leave out flavor and vegetables

  • Glycemic index is a complicated standard

Pros

Healthy Advice

If you are looking for a diet plan that provides easy-to-understand healthy eating guidelines, then this diet will work probably work for you. If you want to learn more about making better food choices but don't want to follow the plan exactly, you will still benefit from learning more about the recommended diet changes set forth in the book.

Exercise

Many diets don't include exercise goals, but this one does. It helps reinforce the point that exercise is in an important part of not just a weight-loss plan, but a healthy lifestyle. Plus, the exercises are suitable for beginners (if you're not one, you may need to up the intensity).

Realistic Goals

The 5-Factor Diet is a 5-week plan (it includes one "cheat day" per week), but you will need to stay on it longer if you have more than about 10 pounds to lose. You can expect an average loss of one to two pounds a week after the first week, which is a smart and healthy way to lose weight and maintain that loss. This diet is safe and adaptable as a permanent lifestyle.

No Supplements

Sometimes celebrity diets are a means of promoting expensive, unnecessary supplements for sale. This one isn't. The money-maker for Pasternak is only the book.

These benefits mean you can get generally good advice from Pasternak and could find success with this plan. But following the diet might not be the right solution for you, perhaps due to some of these drawbacks.

Cons

Can Be Impractical

If you are too busy to prepare meals ahead of time to take to work or school and/or you are not able to eat every three to four hours, following this diet may not be for you. If you don't want to cook, you will have to devote time to planning all of your meals yourself rather than using the recipes Pasternak provides. Additionally, some of the foods on the "must-haves" list may not be readily available and some of the recipes are quite expensive.

And if you eat out a lot, you may find the diet challenging. Pasternak provides only a few examples of dishes to order in restaurants. In time, however, as you adjust to the new eating habits, you'll be able to make appropriate choices and make special requests when you need to.

Lacking Flavor

The devotion to the number five means some recipes are oversimplified. They may not include herbs and spices that could help make them more flavorful. Or they may include only one or two vegetables when more veggies could make a meal tastier and healthier. Always being required to eat all five of the 5-Factor foods together at one time isn't necessarily any more effective than eating them among different meals or snacks.

Too Much Reliance on Glycemic Index

It's not always easy to determine the glycemic index of a food; it can change based on how that food is prepared, for example, and different people have different responses to the glycemic index of the same foods. In addition, the science behind its effect on weight loss is not clear. Finally, a glycemic load of 80 (Pasternak's cutoff) is pretty high.

How It Compares

The 5-Factor Diet provides healthful eating guidelines, recommends a variety of foods without excluding any food groups, and is adaptable to your own preferences. Additionally, it recommends regular exercise. All of these points are hallmarks of a sound diet plan—unlike several other diets promoted by or associated with celebrity experts.

USDA Recommendations

Food Groups

The USDA's guidelines suggest a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, which is in line with the 5-Factor Diet's provisions.

Calories

One drawback of the 5-Factor Diet is that it includes no guidance on calorie intake. This makes the diet simpler to follow, but it could mean it's less effective for some people. The USDA recommends consuming 1600 to 2000 calories a day for weight loss; the number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. To determine your ideal calorie target, try this calculator.

Similar Diets

Harley Pasternak's 5-Factor Diet compares favorably to some other celebrity-linked eating plans and recommendations, and shares similarities with other lower-carb plans.

5-Factor Diet

  • General nutrition: This diet does not eliminate any food groups or specific foods, and it has the flexibility to let users eat the kinds of foods they like (or need to eat, as in avoiding gluten) within its reasonable parameters. Experts caution against overuse of artificial sweeteners, and also say that there's no particular scientific reason for every meal to include all five "factors."
  • Practicality: This diet does not require supplements, special foods, or calorie or carbohydrate counting. So its simplicity is appealing. But its recipes will probably take more than the five minutes of promised prep time, and it can be difficult to eat at restaurants or plan ahead for meals that need to be eaten away from home.
  • Safety: This diet is safe for most people, unless you have a medical condition such as kidney disease or high blood pressure.
  • Effectiveness: If followed reasonably closely, this diet should lead to weight loss for many people.

Suzanne Somers Diet

  • General nutrition: On the Suzanne Somers Diet (also known as Somersizing), a fairly complex set of rules governs which foods can be combined in the same meal. Unlike Pasternak's suggestion that every meal should contain at least some of all five factors, Somers advises keeping carb-heavy foods separate from protein and fats. Both diets recommend cutting back on sugar and refined carbs, which is beneficial. The Somers diet does restrict some otherwise nutritious foods.
  • Practicality: Even though carb-counting is not required on this plan, it's challenging to plan and prepare meals that satisfy the restrictions.
  • Safety: This diet is reasonably safe, although people with diabetes should consult with their health care providers about whether it would work for them.
  • Effectiveness: Especially in phase one of this diet (which has stricter restrictions on sugar, simple carbs, and so on), many people will lose weight—likely due to cutting out those types of foods in favor of more nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates, and not the food-combining rules.

    Dr. Oz 21-Day Diet

    • General nutrition: The Dr. Oz 21-Day Diet is a low-fat, low-carb plan promoted by TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. It cuts out sugar and refined carbs (like the 5-Factor Diet and many others), and processed foods. But it also sharply limits meat, dairy, and even grains. So it is too restrictive to be used for longer than the 21 days (and even that might not work for some people who try it).
    • Practicality: Although no supplements or calorie-counting are required, the list of allowed foods on this diet is fairly short, and portion sizes are small. Plus, buying and preparing only whole, and mostly plant-based, foods can be time-consuming and pricey.
    • Safety: This diet is safe for most people, but unsustainable due to its strictness.
    • Effectiveness: Since it cuts calories and limits certain foods, this diet can help users lose weight. But they may have trouble maintaining this loss after the diet ends.

    Baby Food Diet

    • General nutrition: On the baby food diet (first associated with another fitness trainer to the stars), users swap solid food for tiny jars of baby purees for some, but not all meals. In this way, they can get most of the nutrients they need.
    • Practicality: The simplicity of this diet is a big part of its appeal. Baby-food jars are already prepared and portion-controlled, so people on this diet only have to plan and cook one meal a day. Of course, baby food is designed for babies' palates, not adults. Not all grown-ups can stomach its flavor and texture.
    • Safety: This diet is not a good idea, because it's so low in calories. But a short stint (of a few days) probably won't hurt you.
    • Effectiveness: Yes, you might lose weight on the baby food diet, but it's a very uncomfortable and likely an unsustainable way to do it. Pasternak's plan is a healthier option.

    A Word From Verywell

    Weight loss comes down to calories in, calories out. Whether you eat five or three meals a day, if you burn more calories than you take in, you'll lose weight. If, for example, you completely remove high-calorie and high-sugar foods such as white bread and soda pop from your diet and replace them with whole grains and sugar-free beverages, and you work out most days a week, you are virtually guaranteed to lose weight. The 5-Factor Diet might be a useful framework for you. If it's not (perhaps you love to cook and the recipes are too constraining), keep trying until you find something else that suits you.

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