We've all been there – noticed a few extra pounds on the scale or that our jeans feel a little more snug. Don't be worried, because weight gain is totally natural, and most often all you have to do is re-examine your recent dietary and fitness habits. But, sometimes we go off and take some drastic measures.

cake, carrot
Brittany Arnett

Drastic measures include restrictive eating – and I'm not just talking about the serious issues of anorexia and bulimia. I'm talking anything that limits what you put in your body that isn't based on your actual hunger cues. This includes fad diets, orthorexia, and especially counting calories.

I've stopped counting calories for years now – I've come to the realization that calories do not equal health. We often assume that when something typically high in calorie is made "low-calorie," it's healthier, but this is not the case. And one registered nutritionist, Nichola Whitehead, is trying to change that thinking once and for all.

Nic's counting-calories campaign started with a simple examination of two meal plans, one full of "unhealthy" foods and one full of healthy options. Take a look at them for yourself:

sweet, nut, vegetable
Photo courtesy of gocompare.com

How many calories does the right meal plan have? How about the left meal plan? Surprise: they have the same exact calories. 

But, despite having the same calories, the two meal plans affect how your body responds and processes the food. If you eat the right meal plan, full of processed foods, trans fats, and refined sugar, then your body will respond negatively. This means lower energy levels, potential acne, and, you guessed it – weight gain.

dairy product, huevos rancheros, vegetable, cheese, bread, toast, guacamole, egg, avocado
Brittany Arnett

The left meal plan though is full of nutrient-dense foods. Each meal contains a proper proportion of healthy fats, protein, and carbohydrates. So when you consume this kind of meal plan, your body processes it in a completely different way, absorbing the nutrients from each dish and giving you the energy you need.

Let's break the calories down:

coffee, beer
Photo courtesy of gocompare.com

As you can see, although the calories in each meal are around the same, it's clear that the left meals are the healthier options. Just look at the snacks – a cup of greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds will definitely keep you fuller longer over a chocolate candy bar. 

vegetable, soup, cream, beet
Brittany Arnett

Now, this isn't to tell you that you shouldn't eat the foods on the right side at all – everything is okay as long as it's eaten in moderation (even eating too much of a healthy food isn't good for you!). But this is to show that calories are not everything. What the meal is made of is what really matters.

So next time you're looking to shed a few pounds, don't go crazy and restrict your calorie intake. Instead, opt for meals that are high in nutrients so you stay focused and full throughout your day. Combined with proper sleep and exercise, and you'll be on your way to a balanced and healthy lifestyle