The main principle which influences what you weigh is energy balance – that is energy in versus energy out.
If the energy coming in to your body constantly exceeds the energy going out you will gain weight, as the excess energy gets stored.
Something like obesity and weight loss is a complex area, there are many, many different factors in play, but it is important to realise that energy balance is the main physiological driver.
The energy balance equation is something we can try and directly influence, especially NEAT, so it’s important to understand the ‘how and why?’.
But what is NEAT? Let’s take a closer look at everything…
Energy in consists of the calories you take in from food. You should already be familiar with this concept.
Energy out consists of the following;
Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
The calories burned at rest, this is generally down to the size and sex of the individual – a tall, 100kg male will have a higher RMR than a small, 50kg female. You can’t do a whole lot to directly influence this in the short term.
Exercise energy expenditure (EEE)
The calories burned via exercise – yes, you can directly influence it, but you don’t burn as many calories as you think per session and it's not a direct 'in/out' equation with the calories burned. People usually think more is better with this, ‘if I could only train for longer or do double sessions’. Unless you’re a pro athlete this isn’t feasible, and if you’ve ever tried training twice in a day you’ll know the time around the sessions is made up of you lying around trying to recover.
The saying 'you can't out train a bad diet' is true.
Thermic effect of food (TEF)
You burn calories digesting food. It’s not a big enough differential to be overly worried about.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the amount of energy we expend outside of exercise.
The easy way of explaining this is that someone who sits at a desk all day and then goes home and watches TV for the evening would have a very low level of energy expenditure (calorie burn) via NEAT.
On the other hand, someone who works a physical job during the day and moves around a lot – walks the dog in the evening as well, will burn more calories through NEAT.
The following image should help conceptualise it further;
The value would change person to person – not everyone burns exactly 304 calories per hour walking at 3 mph, but it’s a good reference to show subtle movement adds up over the course of the day. That's the important thing - it's subtle and this means it's very easy to influence and sustainable to do.
So you can see why this such an important concept, the cumulative effect over the course of days, weeks and months can be profound.
Some people think that training twice a day, or just training more often can be the answer to their weight loss problem – for the most part here the answer is no.
For someone to do double sessions it is very demanding, and exercise has been proven to be a very poor driver of weight loss (it does contribute, but your nutrition must match your goal). The reason why it’s a poor driver? You don’t burn as many calories in a session as you think, and you can’t train all day long as it’s generally not feasible time wise, plus if it is constantly high intensity you'll end up burning out sooner rather than later.
Even if you could train twice daily there is always a trade-off, you will most likely spend a lot of the time recovering on the couch or not moving around as much in between session 1 and 2.
I’ve tried it and I’ve seen it many, many times. The body will try to compensate for that increased output of energy dedicated to 2 sessions.
It can also affect appetite – intense training multiple times can sometimes cause someone to overshoot their calories more easily, and remember you don’t burn as many calories as you think exercising but it sure is easy to pack them in when eating.
A smarter way of doing things is to try to increase your NEAT.
This will push up your calorie burn per day in a subtle way which does not affect appetite, nor does it cause you to want to lie around recovering from too much exercise.
It can be done in many ways – go for a walk, walk the dog, move around more in work, take the stairs, park furthest from the door when you go to the shopping centre. The small decisions add up.
Another added benefit is the fresh air and exposure to sunlight that many people do not get working indoors. Get out, get some fresh air and burn more calories in a subtle, intelligent way.
I prescribe 10,000 steps per day. Get a watch or wrist band that tracks steps – don’t use your phone as you’ll get stressed if you leave it out of hand and miss out. The watch or wrist band is an investment in your long term health, you’ll only have to replace the battery.
A final thought is something that has come up in the past, and you need to keep this in mind for many things.
More is not always better.
50,000 steps is not better than 10,000. Eating much less calories than you’ve been prescribed is not better. Training 10 times a week instead of 3-5 is not better.
I once had a client who went for a 4 hour walk the day after I had prescribed 10,000 steps as their activity level. This was way more than was needed, and the person ended up hurting their the bottom of their feet and couldn’t train for over a week.
Stick to the guidelines and remember that it’s a more clever way of making quicker progress.
Hit 10,000 steps daily and you’ll lose weight sooner than if you sit around all day – it doesn’t matter that you train a few times a week you need to move too. Along with that it’s a big part of living a healthier lifestyle.
I bought a heart rate monitor strap and watch as I get use of it for training, but generally activity trackers are cheaper (the watch was €150).
Some people do ask about the accuracy from one tracker to another, or the accuracy of 10,000 steps being 5 miles or 5.1 miles. For me, it doesn’t matter… the variance between devices won’t be huge.
Getting 10,000 steps is much better than getting 1,000 steps. Focus on doing this and not some small detail like the difference of a few hundreds steps per 10,000 between devices.