Should You Try The Five Factor Diet?

Dietary Trends, Food, Nutrition

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // October 23, 2017

When you’re trying to lose weight and get healthy, you hear about all sorts of diets. From Paleo to Keto and everything in between, it seems like a new diet craze comes on the market every week. The latest to gain popularity? The Five Factor Diet. But just what is the Five Factor Diet? And should you try it to lose weight? We’re committed to sorting through diet fads and trends to tell you what’s actually nutritionally sound, so we wanted to dive into this diet to see for ourselves. Let’s explore what the five factor diet actually is, if it’s practical, and if it can help you lose weight.

What Is The Five Factor Diet?

The Five Factor Diet was created by a fitness trainer named Harley Pasternak to help people eat sensibly without going on any crash diets. By eating five balanced meals per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks) you keep your blood sugar stable, which is believed to help not only with weight management but also your mood.

Simply put, the Five Factor Diet relies on five meals a day, each including five nutritional components, that you follow strictly for five weeks for weight loss. Oh, and you must exercise five days a week! (The number five pretty much applies to every aspect of this program if you haven’t noticed already.) Because it’s a fairly moderate diet, it’s perfectly fine to stay on the Five Factor Diet longer than five weeks too—especially if you have a substantial amount of weight to lose.

Related: Keto v. Paleo: Which is Better?

What Do You Eat?

Each of your five daily meals have to include all five of these components:

  • Protein (examples: chicken breast, salmon, egg whites)
  • Low to moderate glycemic carbohydrates* (examples: vegetables, rice, oats, quinoa)
  • Fiber (beans, brown rice, whole veggies and fruits)
  • Healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nut butter)
  • Sugar free beverage (such as water, tea, or coffee)

*When it comes to low-glycemic carbs, Pasternak highlights the importance of focusing on the glycemic index, which focuses on how much any given food spikes your blood sugar. White breads, cakes and candy all have a high glycemic index, while whole grain foods and complex carbohydrates (like brown rice, vegetables, etc) have a low glycemic index.

Is There A Meal Plan?

Each meal should contain five ingredients or less, using all the elements discussed above (protein, low glycemic carbs, fiber, healthy fats, and water or a sugar-free beverage.) While you can find various Five Factor recipes online (and they’re also included in Pasternak’s The Five Factor Diet), you can also save yourself the money and come up with them yourself. Just ask if you’re getting some of each component with each of your five meals.

If that sounds intimidating, remember that many foods or ingredients tick both of those categories. For example, if you’re having an afternoon snack of cottage cheese and an apple, you’re getting protein and fats (from the cottage cheese) and fiber and carbs from the apple.

Here’s an example of a healthy dinner that would satisfy the rules of the Five Factor Diet:

Some salmon drizzled with olive oil (protein and fats) with a side of broccoli and brown rice (carbs and fiber) and some water or tea.

Is The Five Factor Diet Sustainable?

Compared to more extreme diets, the Five Factor Diet is very sustainable. It doesn’t necessarily limit the amount of food you eat, it helps you focus on eating well-balanced, smaller meals more frequently to keep your blood sugar stable. You’re also allowed one “cheat day” on this diet, which means a day to eat whatever you like. There’s been plenty of debate about cheat days within the health and fitness community, and we happen to think that if you’re eating moderately you don’t necessarily need to frame a day as a “cheat day.” Setting aside one day a week to eat everything you consider “bad or guilty” during the week can give you a negative mindset, instead of occasionally interspersing treats or indulgences into your everyday life.

You could easily adhere to the Five Factor Diet without having a designated cheat day and just allowing yourself the occasional cookie, bag of chips, etc. We think living by the 80/20 rule—aiming to eat healthy 80% of the time and leaving some wiggle room to be human—is the most sustainable plan.

Is There A Fitness Component To This Diet?

Of course no diet is complete without an exercise regimen! The proposed fitness commitment with the Five Factor Diet is 25 minutes of exercise, five days a week. While we applaud the fact that exercise is mentioned at all in the diet, 25 minutes a day falls short of our recommendations. Since the CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping exercise per week, you’d need to up that to at least 30 minutes a day—and be sure to include a healthy mix of cardio, strength training, balance, and mind and body movement like yoga or Pilates. (If you want some easy-to-follow fitness plans, check out our library of 28-Day Workout Calendars on Get Healthy U TV.)

Pros of the Five Factor Diet

  • Easy to follow
  • Doesn’t focus on calorie restriction or deprivation
  • Helps you eat sensible, well-balanced meals
  • Keeps your blood sugar level throughout the day

In terms of satisfaction, this diet allows you to eat a variety of healthy foods, and doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on restriction. The few food groups that are off limits—high-sugar foods like refined carbs (white bread) or soda—are relatively easy to cut out of your diet. And simply eliminating refined carbs and sugary beverages from one’s diet is a huge step in getting healthier, whether you follow the rest of this diet or not.

Cons of the Five Factor Diet 

  • Is a little more time-consuming
  • Gives you a “cheat” day, which can be problematic thinking for those with disordered eating habits
  • Doesn’t place much emphasis on fitness

If your schedule is too busy to meal prep a lot, or your work makes it hard to eat every 3 or 4 hours, you might find this diet difficult to maintain. Though it’s good that this diet focuses on making your own food, for people who don’t have a lot of time to meal prep, it can be hard to follow 100%. Another con of this diet is that it doesn’t focus that much on exercise, which is always a huge part of any weight loss or health equation.

So there you have it! If you have the facts, you can make the most informed decision for you and your own health. We’ll always promote eating a well-balanced diet of primarily veggies, fruits, lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. And the Five Factor diet does encourage a healthy mix of all of those groups! At the end of the day, everyone is different and you need to follow the nutritional plan that works best for your body type, your lifestyle, and your goals.

READ THIS NEXT: A Beginner’s Guide To The Mediterranean Diet

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