In today’s article, I’m going to explain N.E.A.T (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis), why it’s one of the most overlooked factors in losing weight, and what you can do to fix it. I promise you, if you make these changes alone, it could be potentially life-changing and help fast-track your path to success.
The Energy Balance Equation and Why You Need To Know It
Before we dive into the N.E.A.T principle, it’s important that you have a good understanding of the energy balance equation. Losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining our weight depends on how many calories we take in versus how many we use up (in theory).
And it starts with the energy balance equation:
Energy Expenditure (EE) = Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) + Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T) + Physical Activity (PA) + Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
But what does this all mean? Here’s a quick overview.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
This is a measure of how much energy is required to keep the body in perfect homeostasis while asleep or resting. This includes basic bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeats, and maintaining a normal temperature. It also includes the number of calories burned while eating and doing light activities such as stretching, walking, going to the bathroom, etc.
It’s essentially the minimum number of calories you must expend to stay alive, and it’s surprisingly higher than you think.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
In addition to using calories just to maintain our body’s basic functions, we also use calories to digest the foods that we eat. This is what’s known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). It varies considerably from food to food.
Protein, for example, is harder for our bodies to digest than simple carbohydrates. Therefore, eating protein increases the thermic effect. In other words, just by trading a portion of your processed carbs for some lean protein, you’ll end up burning more calories each day. Crazy right?
The N.E.A.T Principle – Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or N.E.A.T., is a fancy name to describe the calories burned from all of the movement you do during the day that is not exercise, and it can make a big difference in your fat loss program. Examples of N.E.A.T are cooking, shopping, walking, and gardening. Essentially day to day activities.
Physical Activity (PA)
This is essentially an intentionally planned exercise. Examples of this can be running, cycling, mountain biking, sports, fitness classes, and weight lifting.
The Problems You Need to Be Aware of With N.E.A.T.
This is great in principle. However, did you know that N.E.A.T. can vary enormously from person to person and that N.E.A.T. can decrease when calories are restricted? The human body is very intuitive and has a strong innate drive to keep us alive and to maintain homeostasis. When we cut calories without exercising, our metabolism (RMR) decreases, and proteins like leptin set off the drive to eat more.
Likewise, when we exercise at the same time as we cut calories, the metabolic efficiency of exercise often increases so that we burn fewer calories for the same amount of exercise. Not so good right?
Meanwhile, we also want to eat more – and, without even meaning to, we may reduce our non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.). This is very important. When we cut calories and try to increase our total energy expenditure, the body is trying to get us to stop. Without even realizing it, our workouts burn fewer calories and we become more lethargic.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- After a long tough workout, you decide to let the children take the dog out for a walk instead of taking your usual 45-minute walk. This may not sound like much, but this is essentially 250 fewer calories burned that day. Now add this up over the course of the week. That’s potentially 1750 fewer calories each week.
- After a long hard day of work and a tough workout, you get home and collapse onto the sofa. The thought of cooking is the furthest thing from your mind. So you order a take-a The kind of take-away is irrelevant, but essentially you’ve deprived yourself of an extra 130 calories you could have burned up cooking your own meal, not to mention clearing up afterwards.
Do you see how this can all add up? So when you’re trying to lose weight by cutting calories, you need to be just as aware of your N.E.A.T. activity as you are of your workouts and the food you place in your mouth.
Why We Prioritize N.E.A.T. Activities Over Workouts
For years, I prioritized and scrutinized every single workout I did or prescribed for other people. Until one day, it hit me like a truck. Why was I just focusing on only three to five hours of someone’s life each week? That’s right, exercise usually makes up a small part of someone’s week. There are 160+ hours each week that we have to contend with, and that’s where the N.E.A.T. principle came in.
In a sixty-minute workout, we can burn anywhere from 100–1000 calories, depending on the activity or the intensity at which we work out. But what if we focused on the small differences we could make each day that would add up over time? What if we put more emphasis on those changes so that we could end up burning the same number of calories, if not MORE, than when we worked out?
It’s how WWS came about (Walk, Water, Sleep). If we can help someone burn an extra 500 calories each day just by walking 10,000 steps—which, by the way, is the equivalent of losing one pound each week—think of the increased progress we can achieve.
Now, what if we include cooking, gardening, and everything else into the mix? We’re increasing their ability to expend more energy daily, and they haven’t even begun to exercise. In theory, someone could burn close to 2,000 calories a day if they combine excellent N.E.A.T principles and a good workout. Think how much faster fat loss will (potentially) occur.
It’s a no-brainer. However, it’s these small things that we don’t pay attention to and why they feature so highly on our Private Coaching Program
Now if you’re unsure about this methodology and are looking for science to back this up, multiple studies have shown that people who engage in intentional exercise, unconsciously either ate more to compensate or overcompensated for the calories burned by moving less after the exercise and thus negated their efforts to a degree.
Or in simpler terms … you can’t work out and then sit on your ass all day expecting to lose weight. You need to combine both N.E.A.T. and physical exercise.
The Secrets of Lean People
We published an article recently about why we stopped prioritizing diet for weight loss success. You can read it here: Why We Stopped Prioritizing Diet For Weight Loss Success. In a nutshell, we discovered that the fit and healthy amongst us were walking three times as much as our members who wanted to lose weight. That’s an additional 300–400 calories a day if we look at it from an energy balance perspective.
Many people who are trying to lose body fat compare themselves to already lean individuals. They compare the amount of exercise they do or the types of food they eat. Some even blame their genetics. But very few compare their day-to-day activities. Most lean individuals are considerably more active every day, and this adds up over time. And we’re not talking workouts here.
It’s so easy to lose sight of this. I once did. The secret of the naturally lean is that they simply move more every day, adding to their daily calorie burn. This daily surplus of movement and expended calories add up over time, leading to weight loss, just as non-movement and surplus calories can lead to weight gained.
This really can be the subtle difference that’s holding you back in your weight loss journey. It could be the parking brake that’s applied as you try to drive towards a leaner body. Maybe it’s not your workouts or your metabolism. Maybe you just need to sit less and move more.
Three Ways to Increase N.E.A.T. the Right Way
Now that you understand the importance of N.E.A.T., it’s time to find ways to increase it and incorporate it into your life.
This is by far the simplest way to expend more energy throughout the day, and it’s the easiest to accomplish. Take the stairs more, park further away in the parking lot, schedule 20-minute walks into your daily routine. Try to hit a daily minimum of 7k steps. (Learn more about the Triple Seven Rule here.)
Get a Standing Desk
Even though the number of calories expended standing at your desk versus sitting is not a huge amount, you are much more likely to move around while on your feet than sitting down. Not to mention, you’re doing your thoracic spine and hip flexors a world of good at the same time. Back pain? The number of people who get relief from their pain (not everyone) by just switching from a seated to a standing desk is incredible. Give it a try, and you’ll be amazed at what happens.
Do Your Own Cooking
And we don’t mean throw something in the microwave! On average, you will burn 200 calories per hour cooking. Throw in an extra 75 calories for cleaning up afterwards, and add the fact that you will be eating a healthy, nutritious meal. The benefits of home cooking go well above and beyond the food you put in your mouth. We can’t speak highly enough of this one.
It turns out that N.E.A.T. can have quite a substantial impact on our metabolic rates and calorie expenditures. It is probably the most overlooked aspect in the process of losing fat and trying to lose weight. Since making this a priority for every single one of our members, we’re seeing the results skyrocket, and more importantly, we’re seeing the weight stay off for the long term.
If weight loss and fat loss is a priority for you right now, or if you’ve hit a plateau, turn your attention to N.E.A.T. Focus on the little things every day that add up. You’ll be amazed at what will happen in just a few weeks.
And remember, it all starts with WWS. That’s our best recommendation for you to get going.