NEAT – Why you may be struggling to lose weight

If you are like most folks starting out, or tired of losing the weight and putting it on you have probably done a good search on the term ‘metabolism’. But what about ‘NEAT’. Fast and slow usually come hand in hand with foods that ‘speed it up’.

Poor Oprah – she just can’t get to grips with her metabolism. Up and down like a yo-yo.

As a personal trainer and gym in Maynooth we have seen our fair share of struggles

Coconut oil, thyroid examination, gym routines. Maybe you have explored their metabolic boosting effects. But to still no avail.

There is a large piece of the puzzle when it comes to the whole calories in calorie out principle.

And the beauty is that is easy to implement, requires little effort and yields results.

How you go about losing weight is simple enough. Calories out vs. calories in. How we go about that is pretty straight forward. And for the most part it boils down to numbers.

When you look at your energy demands it can be broken down into 3 chunks of calories

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate
  2. Thermic Effect of Food / Eating
  3. Your activity levels (Exercise and NEAT)

I hate to say it but gym routines are the cherry on top. This falls into ‘exercise’. With 1 and 2 covered by and large by good dietary practice. 3 leaves us open to be in control of in most cases, most of the time. But what is best practice.

Walking my friend. Walking.

Let’s have a look at each very quickly before moving onto the meat of it.

RMR – Eh?

This is the number of calories that you expend just functioning as a grown human being. Stuff like breathing, thinking, digestion, pumping that big heart of yours, solving that sudoku puzzle.

All requires energy.

WIth your organs as much as 25 kcal per lb by the way. Just compare that with your muscles using roughly 5 kcal per lb. If only there was a way of stoking those organs to work harder right???

This amount sits around 60-75% of your daily number. So can you see how going too low with your calories, then adding in a tonne of cardio or exercise can essentially send your internal systems into a bit of a meltdown?

See how many calories you need to just survive here.


This is the number of calories or energy it takes to digest your food and can stretch to around 8% of your daily expenditure. That is why a good steak and spuds with tonnes of fibre can take a fair old whack of energy just to digest, absorb and assimilate. Would you get that same energy demand from that rice cake that you ate? Probably not. I certainly don’t get the meat sweats munching my way through jaffa cakes.


Then we have good ole activity levels. Have a look at this chart and you will see what I mean.

I hate to say it (as a gym owner) but that gym session really isn’t the be all and end all and is in fact a very small piece of the puzzle.

But don’t worry your efforts are not going unrewarded. The benefits have been explained here and here.

We need to address your activity levels if we are to truly nail your weight, health and fitness goals?

Think of these real world case studies from the Sphere lab

P loses 3 stone and suddenly discovers that he can do much more with less discomfort that before. Suddenly his activity levels increase by 50% (2 more classes per week). He burns more calories day-to-day as a by-product.

M loses weight and in the same regard has the mental capacity to get a dog which she walks 2 times per day adding 40 minutes of walking per day 6-7 days of the week. Suddenly she loses weight again. Nothing has changed outside of this. She burns more calories day-to-day as a by-product.

T changes job. He now has a 20 minute round trip walk off the train in the mornings. He starts to lose weight. He still eats pretty much the same diet. He burns more calories day-to-day as a by-product.

In all of the above cases they have increased their NEAT.

Numbers – just numbers

There is a caveat. Weight loss is complex. How complex? Just google any fat loss pathway diagram and you will see in all its glory.

And using activity trackers is inherently inaccurate. You are more than numbers. How we use these calories can be open to interpretation.

But you know what? It is a start. And there is something to ensure that there is some degree of adherence. In fact in 1 study (yes..1 study not the be all and end all but good nonetheless) using an activity tracker helps keep the weight off. Maybe it was a behavioural factor? That little nudge on your wrist didn’t do it for you but it certainly shaped the pathway to better adherence.

How to start

Take a baseline with your activity tracker for 1-2 weeks and then look to improve this score. 6000 steps on average? Why not shoot for 7000 steps for a couple of weeks? 1500 kcal of activity? Why not shoot for 1750 kcal? Better is better.

There is a genetic side to this. And can’t be ignored. If your parents are like greyhounds then you may have an easier job in staying active.

The downside of High Intensity and busting your ass in the gym….

In another study leaving yourself absolutely banjaxed from a tough cardio session can leave you whacked the following day. It could leave you more likely to do LESS not only from the effect of the training but also the psychological aspect of ‘I have that done now…now I can sit on my ass’.

Not so young padwun. In fact, resistance training has been shown to actually increase NEAT in the following day – that gym routine may not be such a small piece of the puzzle. 

The core takeaway is do enough that you are not laying crippled on your back for days from exhaustion and can do more. Frequency when you are starting is more important than home runs in the gym.

How to implement more NEAT

Get off your ass. Yep. You need to do this. For your own health. Mechanisation, car ownership, environment has all put these handy little roadblocks into making you more efficient at doing stuff but less efficient at expending energy. 

Not good. 300 deaths are attributed each year to Obesity in Ireland.

It is time to embrace the NEAT and get walking. Seriously why are you reading this? It all adds up. Find a sport you enjoy, get out with the kids, get a dog, find friend to walk with and chat the world away.

Fight that urge to be lazy. It is killing you.


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