NEAT: The Reason Your Unable to Change Your Weight
Ever gone on a diet, been consistent and faithful and done everything 'right' but still didn't see the results you were looking for or reap any reward for your hard work? Your NEAT could be at fault.
What is NEAT and why does it matter? NEAT stands for Non-Exercises Activity Thermogenisis. In other words, it's all the calories you burn from day to day through daily activities (everything EXCEPT for your workouts or intentional exercise i.e. cleaning, cooking, walking the dog, walking from your parking spot in to work, etc.). NEAT plays a huge roll in overall calorie burn, much moreso than intentional exercise for most people. Because of this, it has a huge impact on how many calories one should consume and plays a big part in overall changes in bodyweight and fat loss/muscle gain. For people who have active jobs and lifestyles, their NEAT will be relatively high, whereas people with sedentary occupations and hobbies will have pretty low levels of NEAT. NEAT has been shown to have a very large impact on success rates in terms of fat loss. Furthermore, NEAT is a large factor in decreases in metabolism as you age. As we get older, lifestyles and responsibilities tend to shift toward a generally less active day to day life than when we were kids or adolescents. A 17-year-old boy who appears to be able to 'eat whatever he wants' without gaining weight is probably walking around a lot throughout the day, playing sports, hanging out outside, going out in the evenings, etc. The same man will burn far less calories when he's 40, working a 9-5 desk job, coming home in the evening to watch sports on the couch and spending free time relaxing at the bar, attending sporting events, etc. However, it's not because his resting metabolism has dropped by much (maybe a matter of about 3%) but is more so because he lives a much less active lifestyle in later years. What doe NEAT have to do with dieting and fat loss or muscle gain? NEAT is also a huge part of the reason the metabolism appears to 'slow down' as one diets. As calorie intake is reduced, the body tries to reserve more calories by decreasing energy levels and increasing fatigue, causing one to subconsciously move around far less during the day. There have been many studies done on NEAT for competitive physique athletes during bodybuilding show preps showing that as lower and lower calorie levels are reached, NEAT decreases by up to 50% on a daily basis. In other words, they are burning half of the number of calories on a day to day basis than they were before they started dieting. This can mean that despite calorie intake dropping, they might not be losing any weight and may actually reach a point where they start to GAIN weight simply because they aren't burning as many calories throughout the day as they used to, to such an extent that they are now eating more than they are burning despite the decrease in calories. Many people mistake this phenomenon for 'metabolic damage' as it appears that the metabolism is slowing down in correlation with reducing calorie intake. In reality, activity levels are decreasing with reducing caloric intake, thus decreasing the calorie deficit. True metabolic damage to the extent that the metabolism slows down enough to prevent weight loss even with relatively low calorie intakes and high activity levels is very uncommon, even amongst competitive physique athletes. Reductions in NEAT don't just happen to people dieting to extremes, though. In fact, it's very rare for a drop in calorie intake to NOT result in a drop in NEAT. This can be a big problem when weight loss is the goal as it causes frequent stalling and plateaus that are frustrating and confusing. NEAT can also play a role in weight gain even without any dietary changes. If someone were to undergo any sort of lifestyle change where they are notably less active on a daily basis (i.e. a change of career, reduced frequency of active hobbies, off season from sports, quarantine from a pandemic, etc.) it is highly likely that they will begin to gain weight even if their nutrition stays exactly the same and they were maintaining or even losing weight before such changes took place. So how can you combat reductions in NEAT when reducing your intake or changing your lifestyle? My favorite way is to hit a consistent step goal that's similar to what you were hitting prior to the changes. This will ensure that your overall activity stays pretty similar to what it was originally, and prevent a reduction in calories being a wash from reduced activity. Some other ways to increase NEAT or hit your daily step goal: -Park farther away from work/grocery store/etc. -Go for a 10 min walk after meals -Keep your step count consistent -Find hobbies that don't involve a lot of sitting/standing around -Drink a lot of water (you will stay more satiated with less calories, have more energy and get up to pee more). If you are trying to undergo a weight loss journey, avoid weight gain with major lifestyle changes or continue seeing weight loss without further reducing calorie intake, it's worth assessing your NEAT and implementing some of the measures above to live a more active life, even outside of the gym and your regular workout routine.