NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
To put it simply, NEAT is any activity besides eating and sleeping that burns calories – but is not exercise specifically for the purpose of exercising.
The NEAT factor plays an important role in your weight loss plan, yet it is often completely overlooked.
Before we delve into the details however, let’s first lay down some basic ground rules:
What is a Weight Loss Plan
If you’ve got a few stubborn pounds you want to lose that you just can’t seem to shake, it’s likely you’ve started out on at least one weight loss plan recently.
This plan might have been based on direction from your doctor. It could be based on something you read in a magazine or a blog. It might be built into a weight loss program you signed up for, or maybe an idea just came to you one day and you decided it made enough sense to give it a try.
Regardless of where you got your plan, who crafted it, and whether you’ve stuck with it or dropped it the same day – all weight loss plans can be ultimately stripped down to two primary points of action:
- DIET – that is, the number of calories you take in, and the foods that provide them.
- EXERCISE – that is, activities employed to burn off the calories you’ve consumed.
If your plan completely ignores physical activity, then it is merely a “diet plan.” While it is possible for diet plans to result in weight loss, they are not a viable long-term strategy.
If your plan lets you eat and drink anything you feel like, then it is merely an “exercise plan.” While an exercise plan may help to keep you fit and in shape, it will not inherently promote weight loss.
In order to be a “weight loss plan” it must incorporate both diet and exercise. This truth is universal, in that no weight loss plan can ever succeed without addressing both of these points in some way or fashion.
Importance of Diet
While it is possible to lose weight without exercise, it is not possible to lose weight without a controlled diet.
In this day and age, high-calorie low-nutrient foods are cheaper and more readily available than ever before. We live in a country where you can easily exceed your daily recommended caloric intake in a single meal at a fast food restaurant, without even scratching the daily recommended nutrition.
Sugar is needlessly added to just about everything, primarily for its’ addictive properties. Healthy food is expensive and requires effort to locate. Highly processed junk food is cheap and available at any convenience store.
Of these two points, diet is the most absolutely crucial to the success of any weight loss plan. If you take in more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight, regardless of exercise. Furthermore, it is physically impossible to burn more calories in a day than you can eat.
Importance of Exercise
Exercise tends to get the short end of the stick when compared with diet. Since it is possible to lose weight without it, many dieters see exercise as optional.
Nothing could be more wrong or ultimately detrimental.
As I’ve written in previous pieces, the first thing your body will reabsorb and convert back into burnable energy is muscle. Muscle costs roughly 6 calories per pound to keep alive per day, and is easy to convert back into energy. Fat costs 3, and requires more work to burn. When deprived of calories, the body will opt to burn muscle at every opportunity.
The result of this mistake? Pounds are lost, but inches remain. Weakened, the body succumbs to exhaustion, slowed metabolism and lowered immune responses. In extreme cases, this can even result in lack of mobility as the body starves and eats itself to the point of disability.
When exercise is applied however, the body will expend calories building new lean muscle and improving its’ energy burning abilities. Rather than consuming muscle, the body is forced to burning a high percentage of fat. Pounds will be lost more slowly than the alternate approach, but inches will melt away fast.
How Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Fits In
Thermogenesis is the process of heat production in organisms. It occurs in all warm-blooded animals. This is also the process by which we burn calories.
As noted above, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is any form of activity that burns calories but is not purposeful outright exercise. Daily activities such as taking a shower, walking to the mailbox, standing in line at a gas station or simply brushing your teeth are all part of your NEAT factor.
Exercise as a purposeful activity gets most of the attention when looking at weight loss options, but adjusting your NEAT factor can actually offer significantly higher rewards.
While initially it may sound negligible, consider this: You might spend an hour exercising each day – but you spend the other 15 or so hours of your day in NEAT mode without even thinking about it.
By the numbers, your NEAT factor matters far more.
As a Nation, We’re Losing Our NEAT
If it seems like losing weight has gotten harder over the past couple of decades – that’s because it has.
Losing weight has always been hard – but research shows that over the past 40 years it’s become increasingly more difficult.
This research is based on dietary and exercise data for tens of thousands of Americans from 1988 through 2006. What we’re finding is that the same amounts of food intake and exercise results in a 5-10% heavier individual than it did in the 1970’s and 80’s.
“Weight management is actually much more complex than just ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out’,” says Professor Jennifer Kuk of the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at New York University.
One factor worth considering is that our quality of food has changed. Due to mass manufacturing and the prevalence of processed junk foods, we’re getting our calories from far less nutritious sources than we were many years ago.
This is also where NEAT comes in. The individuals studied had reported their eating habits and their exercise habits – but not their non-exercise lifestyle habits.
40 years ago, visiting with a friend meant picking up a telephone at home – or possibly even driving some distance to drop in and say hi. Today we compose text messages to family members in the very same house with our thumbs whilst kicked back on the couch watching Netflix.
Speaking of Netflix – 40 years ago television viewing was limited to only a handful of channels, and on set schedules. If you wanted entertainment beyond whatever happened to be broadcasting, your best bet was to leave the house, play a game, take up a hobby, or read a book. Today, excessive television watching has actually been linked to increased mortality.
Fast food used to be an indulgence you partook of on the weekends. Now eating food from a drive-through window on a daily basis has become common.
Lawn mowers didn’t always have engines. Now even the push variety come with power drive wheels.
The examples are endless, and they all point to the same reality: Life today demands far less physical activity today than it did when our parents were teenagers. So much so, that it accounts for at least a 5% increase in average BMI nation-wide - and contributes to the next generations' life-span expecation decreasing for the first time in the history of our country.
How to Lose Weight without Exercise
Notice how I waited until the end to drop this headline? That's because you already know where I’m going, and why it doesn’t mean what all the pill pushers and diet experts want you to think it means.
It doesn’t matter how many late-night TV commercials try to tell you different – there is NO way to lose weight without changing your diet and incorporating exercise, unless you’re willing to pay a dear price to your health.
There is, however, a way to incorporate exercise into your routine without spending hours at the gym – that is, by focusing on your NEAT factor.
Face it – your habits are the reason you’re where you are today.
Adding 30 minutes of activity each day is great, and improving your diet is too – but your daily habits are the secret weapon that can really supercharge your weight loss plan.
Consider simple lifestyle changes that cause you to walk more, sit less, and be more active. Turn off the TV and take up a hobby.
Set aside some of the modern “conveniences” and improve your NEAT factor. You’ll be surprised how big a difference the little things make.
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