What Is the 5-Factor Diet?

5 Factor diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The 5-Factor Diet is a weight loss program developed by renowned fitness trainer, nutritionist, and bestselling author Harley Pasternak, who has a roster of celebrity clients including Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Jennifer Hudson. The five-week plan is simple: Eat five meals a day made up of just five ingredients from five food groups. Plus, do five five-minute exercises every day.

Pasternak's book, "The 5-Factor Diet," which was published in 2006 and co-authored with Myatt Murphy, outlines the plan he used with celebrities who were looking to lose weight and maintain their weight loss. The book includes simple recipes that Pasternak says can be prepared in five minutes or less.

In 2009, Pasternak followed up with "The 5-Factor World Diet," with recipes inspired by the foods and "nutritional habits" from what he calls some of the world's "healthiest countries," including Japan, Sweden, and Italy.

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

What Can You Eat?

The key principle of the 5-Factor Diet is to eat five meals each day for five weeks. 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 offers 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 You Need to Know

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.

"The 5-Factor Diet" book contains recipes as well as an exercise plan. Pasternak says getting regular exercise is 50% of the 5-Factor strategy and states that you must exercise five days a week to receive the full benefits. 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.

This diet can be adapted for people who are vegetarian or adhere to 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 inaccurate levels of carbohydrates, sodium, or protein for you.

What to Eat
  • Lean proteins

  • Complex carbohydrates

  • Healthy fats

  • Sugar-free drinks

What Not to Eat
  • Refined carbs

  • High-glycemic foods

  • Sweetened beverages

Lean Proteins

Pasternak advises including lean protein in all five daily meals, such as fish, egg whites, or skinless chicken.

Complex Carbohydrates

These are also included in all meals. Complex carbs 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, nuts, seeds, 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, or pasta.

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.

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

There are some pretty great reasons to try the 5-Factor Diet since Pasternak's advice is rooted in smart nutrition combined with regular physical activity. But following the diet might not be the right solution for you, perhaps due to some of these drawbacks. Review the pros and cons before you try this program.

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. The 5-Factor philosophy helps reinforce the fact that exercise is not only an important part of a weight-loss plan but also a healthy lifestyle. Plus, the exercises are suitable for beginners (if you're not one, you may want to up the intensity).

Realistic Goals

The 5-Factor Diet is a 5-week plan, though it does include one per week when you can deviate. However, you will likely need to stay on the program longer if you have more than 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.

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 ideal for you. If you don't want to cook the recipes Pasternak provides, you will have to devote time to planning your own meals. Additionally, some of the foods on the "must-haves" list may not be readily available, and some of the recipes are quite expensive.

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 certain foods; 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.

Is the 5-Factor Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended dietary guidelines suggests a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, which aligns with the 5-Factor Diet's provisions.

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 weight loss for some people. The USDA recommends consuming an average of 1,500 calories a day for weight loss, but the number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. To determine your ideal calorie target, try this calculator.

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

Health Benefits

The 5-Factor Diet advocates for a balanced diet since it emphasizes lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and low-GI foods, which research shows are essential to health and longevity. In addition to providing healthy guidelines for eating, people following this diet are encouraged to exercise, which is integral to a well-rounded healthy lifestyle.

The program is also a safe and realistic way to lose weight, and teaches long-term healthy habits for weight management. After the first week, you will likely lose one to two pounds per week for the duration of the program and be able to sustain that weight loss. Research shows that continuing to eat healthily and exercise regularly is one of the best things you can do not only for weight management but also for your overall health.

Health Risks

While there are no common health risks associated with the 5-Factor Diet, the science behind its effect on weight loss is not clear. For instance, beverages sweetened artificially such as diet soda are allowed on the 5-Factor Diet, but experts have cautioned against the overuse of artificial sweeteners. Some critics of the diet have said there's no particular scientific reason for every meal to include all five "factors."

Additionally, a glycemic load of 80 (Pasternak's cutoff) is pretty high for some people, especially for those who have diabetes.

Similar Diets

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

5-Factor Diet

  • General nutrition: This diet does not eliminate any food groups or specific foods, and it has the flexibility to allow you to eat the kinds of foods you like (or need to eat, as in avoiding gluten) within its reasonable parameters.
  • 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 diabetes, 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 Suzanne 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 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 some people lose weight. But they may have trouble maintaining this loss after the diet ends and they resume their regular eating habits.

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 create a calorie deficit and lose weight. For example, if you completely remove high-calorie and high-sugar foods such as white bread and soda from your diet and replace them with whole grains and sugar-free beverages, and you work out most days a week, you are likely 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.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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