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The NEAT Math Behind Every Step Toward Your Goal
Drop the science

By Brittney Pereda

August 4, 2019

Brittney Pereda (Photo by Easterday Creative)

“I can just look at food and gain weight!” It would seem that a wide variety of the population nowadays has extremely slow metabolism, bad genetics or serious hormonal issues.

Sure, there are people with endocrine system dysfunction or other health problems that cause weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight, but for the most part, the individuals who complain about their “slow metabolism” either don’t even understand what having a slow metabolism really means and or don’t actually have a metabolism issue — they have a movement issue. A lack of daily movement.

“But I go to my boot camp class every single day. I am super active!” The last thing I want to do is deny you of your efforts — keep up the good work — but unfortunately, it just might not be enough. You see, as I have spoken about before in this column, weight loss and muscle gain are all about a proper balance of energy expenditure and energy intake.

When you eat in a caloric deficit — eating less then your daily maintenance based on an honest depiction of your daily activity — and move more, you will lose weight. Again, this applies to those individuals who have no health issues diagnosed by their doctor (if you have not had a check up and are trying to lose weight, it doesn’t hurt to get one).

Bear with me as I break down the science of it all. You see, your Basal Metabolic Rate (what you burn on a daily basis just at rest) plus the thermic effect of the foods you eat (the amount of calories needed to properly digest food), added to something called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, makes up your energy requirements for each day. Your BMR accounts for about 60% of your total daily energy requirements, the thermic effect makes up about 10-15% of those requirements, and your NEAT makes up the rest of that daily requirement. So what is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis? For one, it is extremely important to your goals.

NEAT is any normal life activity that is unplanned, such as walking, shopping, cleaning, gardening, etc. It can account for anywhere from 15% of a sedentary individual’s energy expenditure to 50% in an active individual’s day. The majority of people I personally know are too comfortable with their sedentary lifestyle — sitting at a desk all day, eating a consistent surplus of calories without even making an effort to work out or exercise.

For those of you who do make the effort to work out because it is important to you, I applaud you, but if you aren’t seeing the results you want, you need to look at your caloric intake as well as your daily NEAT. Be honest with yourself; you may not be as active as your mind wants you to think. Many people who do work out like fiends at classes and/or in the weight room feel as though they are exhausted from that one workout and don’t recognize the fact that they move less because of it.

So what do all those naturally fit people with “high metabolisms” do? Trust me, I do this for a living and I have fallen victim to comparing myself to the beautiful, muscular girl in the gym who makes it look easy. Our minds start racing and thinking about how much we are working out, how much we are eating, and then we typically go straight to the excuse of “genetics” to blame our bodies for holding more fat than that person because we want to believe we’ve tried our hardest and it’s just not working. You are only human. Breathe and take a step back. Comparing yourself to others is just stupid. You are on your own journey and that other person is on theirs.

What you don’t see is what these “naturally skinny” people are doing on a daily basis. Do they have a more active job or lifestyle? For example, this person might be a nurse on their feet all day long. Do they workout on top of this active lifestyle? I can bet they are. Their metabolisms aren’t any better than yours, they just make more of an effort in every aspect to get to their goals. A daily surplus of movement and expended calories adds up over time, just as non-movement with a surplus of calories will show in the long run.

A good place to start? Download a fitness app and aim for more than 10,000 steps every day. What’s stopping you?

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