The Biggest Calorie Blaster EVER! NEAT.
I swear my husband just got back from a deployment.
I swear he did.
Actually, he really did just get back–he’s only been home for 8 weeks after being gone for 8 months straight; now he’s gone again, attending a school on another continent for another 6 weeks (stifling the urge to scream!).
This isn’t my first rodeo, not by a long shot.
But that doesn’t make things easier. Every deployment, mission, or TDY assignment brings it’s own challenges.
The worst parts are far and away the emotional challenges–being lonely, trying to meet the needs of upset kids who naturally act up and out and every which way. But there is also the one-person-doing-the-work-of-two-adults labor factor that is an inevitable component.
It was from these experiences over the years, all the deployment/mission/TDY assignment ‘rodeos’ that I learned the impact all that non-exercise activity has on your bottom line–really, your waistline, as it turns out!
Each time my husband goes away, I have to pick up the slack–all of it.
Dishes need to be done? I’m it.
Laundry needs sorting/washing/drying/folding? I’m it.
Dog needs walking or to be carried down the stairs (she’s old) or ferried to the vet? I’m it.
Kids need to be taxied to their extracurricular events? I’m it.
Food needs cooking? I’m it.
Groceries need purchasing for the cooking? I’m it.
Floor needs mopping, snacks need packing, lawn needs mowing, seasonal tires need storing, furniture needs moving, cars need cleaning…the list goes on.
And, yes, I’m it.
But being “IT” means I am ACTIVE.
If I’m not driving or eating a meal with the kids (or getting a blog posted on my website, lol), I am on my feet.
It’s perfectly normal for me to get up just before the kids at 6 (so I can relish the calm before the storm with my sanity-saving cup of coffee) and stay active and occupied until 10 PM. It ends up that all this moving around all day long burns some serious extra calories.
Within two weeks of my husband leaving, my pants will fit more loosely, without fail. Stress (non) eating notwithstanding in those times where I haven’t coped as well, I will eat the same, and I will lose some weight and definitely some circumference.
Before I studied exercise science, I was a little surprised and mystified by the sudden shift in weight and circumference, since my eating and exercise habits would stay about the same, but I’ve since learned that this waistline-shrinking change is due to the power of NEAT.
NEAT stands for ‘Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.’
And what non-exercise activity thermogenesis boils down to is everything you do, outside of your workouts and RMR (aka: REE), that requires energy (burns calories).
RMR is your resting metabolic rate, which means all the energy your body needs to basically stay alive and function each day, and RMR plus the thermic effect of food (energy it takes to digest) plus your exercise activities plus your NEAT makes up the total amount of energy your body requires (TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure)–which can also be thought of as the calories you burn doing all these things.
RMR can make up 60-75% of your total caloric needs/burn, and variations can probably be credited to how much lean muscle you have on your body. The thermic effect of food can take credit for about 10% of calorie expenditure, and activity thermogenesis (exercise+NEAT) then takes credit for anywhere from 15-30% of your total calorie expenditure.
We can influence our RMR through exercise to increase and improve our lean muscle mass, and we can burn a certain amount of calories in a workout session, which both help us out in tons of ways. But the biggest potential area for us to burn calories and influence our bottom line comes from NEAT–everything else we do throughout the day.
When my husband is away for longer periods of time, my energy output increases significantly, and if I don’t adjust my eating (calorie intake) then I lose weight/inches.
And the NEAT factor works in reverse, too, as I once again experienced after my husband’s re-deployment during the holidays! I’m fortunate to have really supportive family, and had my dad’s help during Christmas, too, so suddenly, after many months on my own, I had TWO other sets of adult hands to help out with all the tasks–which meant less work for me AND that meant less energy output from me, too. While it was definitely a relief to have so much help, of course, but my diminished daily workload, combined with holiday foods and celebrations, showed up on my waist again, 4 weeks later.
I hadn’t gone hog-wild eating or stopped exercising, my NEAT had just dropped significantly and I hadn’t adjusted my habits to balance that change out. The result? Those waistbands on my jeans got SNUG.
Since I’ve been through this cycle a few times, I recognized what I was dealing with, and knew I needed to examine my ‘new normal,’ and reevaluate my level of activity. Sitting more, working less around the house, gym and physical therapy clinic meant I needed to readjust my intake to match my NEAT better.
4 weeks later, I’m back to a more normal feeling in my jeans (phew!) without crazy dieting or exercising, just cutting out the extras and doing more around the house.
Now that this next TDY assignment is underway *sigh* and I’m a one-woman show again, chances are that NEAT will work it’s magic again over the next few weeks, and I may need to reevaluate my eating to support my changing energy needs. I’ll likely do this by using a food journal with a behavior/attitude component for a few days, which will give me more concrete information (not emotional impressions) to work with.
Too often, we get tied up with the idea that we can ‘just burn it off’ in the gym with a massive sweat session, or ‘jump-start’ our metabolism with some 2-a-day workouts.
And while there is definitely the possibility of burning lots of calories in these planned exercise efforts, there’s also the distinct possibility of being train-wrecked for the rest of the day–which pretty much kills your NEAT.
In the effort to ‘torch’ calories, you might just be inhibiting your biggest calorie burner!
Turn this into a pattern of behavior, and….it becomes a vicious, frustrating, and unhelpful cycle.
So if improving your NEAT is the key to improving your bottom line in the calorie-burning campaign, what can you do? (Short of sending your significant other, or anyone who provides you support in your lifestyle, for weeks at a time!)
Choose convenience less and hands-on work/extra movement opportunities more.
Some of these options might sound a little cliché, but they add up, so they really do make a difference.
- Park at the far end of the parking lot
- Carry your own groceries instead of pushing them or getting assistance to your car
- Stand while folding clothes
- Do the dishes by hand
- Take the stairs–EVERY time
- Use a push mower for the lawn
- Change the channel by hand, not with the remote
- Pace while talking on the phone
- Stand while working on your computer/lap top/tablet
- Go for a walk with the family after dinner
- Walk to ride bike to run errands when possible
And in an office scenario?
- Take frequent water breaks or drink lots of water–this will also add up to some *other* breaks throughout the day, too!
- Move your trash/recycle bins farther away from where you sit
- Walk to communicate with a coworker rather than sending a message/email
- Take a walk with coworkers at lunch
- Have “walk and talk” meetings rather than lunch meetings or sitting at a table or desk
I have a few more weeks to reap the magic effects of NEAT during my ‘one-woman show,’ (although, if I’m being honest, I’d rather be lying in the sun on a tropical island) and I’ll be using this time to finish leaning out my waist from my holiday/post-deployment indulgences.
No dieting, no crazy exercise regimes, just more basic movement throughout the day.
And this time when my husband comes home, I’ll be prepared to reevaluate my NEAT and adjust accordingly so I won’t be adjusting my waistband!
Look for those little opportunities in each day, in each environment (work, home, etc.), where you can add in a little physical effort and your NEAT will grow, too–which means your waist might just shrink!
Make your NEAT work for you.
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