When you hear the word "diet," it is most likely quickly followed by the word "restriction" in your head. But as dietitian Paula Norris's popular Instagram account brings to light, cutting calories and living a healthier lifestyle don't have to be synonymous with giving things up. Norris has amassed a following by making and sharing side-by-side photos of the exact same meal, one with significantly fewer calories than the other, to illustrate the caloric power of portion size, toppings, and balancing ingredients in each meal. In each photo caption, she then explains the common cooking mistakes that contribute to the higher-calorie meal, which looks nearly identical to the healthier option. The resulting posts look like this:
If you read through enough of her clever explanations, a few patterns emerge. Generally speaking, Norris wants you to be aware of the amount of each ingredient in any given meal—you don't have to change what you're eating, but how much of each ingredient on the plate. In post after post, she advises against loading on the healthy fats (yes, even avocado), overdoing the meat and starchy carbs, adding too much dressing, cheese, or other fatty toppings, and using too much oil when cooking.
Her overarching nutritional message remains somewhat the same: more low-starch veggies, always. "There is no better way to remain satisfied and get plenty of nutrients and fiber in without going overboard with calories," she told Insider, adding that her favorite low-starch veggies include broccoli, zucchini, carrot, tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, cucumber, squash, spinach, kale, cauliflower, asparagus, bok choy, and peas.
In the last photo of the steak and avocado salad above, for example, Norris writes, "no change in ingredients—just different amounts!" The bowl on the left contains 180 grams of untrimmed steak cooked in oil, 50 grams of avocado, one cup of cooked rice noodles, and two teaspoons of sesame oil. The bowl on the right has just 100 grams of trimmed steak cooked without oil, half the amount of avocado, cooked rice noodles, sesame oil, double the amount of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, soy sauce, and added carrots.
We'd argue that Norris's posts succeed in remaining relevant to all viewers, even if you're not trying to diet or cut calories. The visual representations, along with her professional explanation, make you think about the way you cook and the small changes you can make to eat a tiny bit healthier. (I realized that I cook with way too much oil, for example.) Follow her on Instagram for daily motivation, and shop our healthy eating essentials below.