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How NEAT is your body?

By June 2, 2017 No Comments

What happens if you eat 1,000 extra calories a day for 8 weeks straight?

Well, I’m sure you’ve heard that in order to lose a pound of fat you need to burn about 3,500 calories. So if we use this methodology we can come up with an answer using some simple math.

1,000 Cals/day X 7 days X 8 weeks = 56,000 Cals

56,000 Cals / 3,500 Cals = 16 lbs of fat gained

But is it really that simple to predict?

Awhile back a study at the Mayo Clinic was conducted to determine what happens in this very scenario.

The study

16 non-obese, healthy individuals (12 men and 4 women) participated

DEXA scans were used to measure body compositions at the start and end of the study for each participant

Total energy expended each day for each participant was also measured

Each person was fed 1,000 Calories a day above their body’s required caloric need to maintain their current weight levels

The Results

So everyone gained 16 lbs, right? Not quite.

Surprisingly no one was even close to that. 

The most amount of weight gained was 9.3 lbs.

The least amount of weight gained was 0.79 lbs.

Yes you read that right. Someone was able to eat 1,000 extra Calories a day and for 8 weeks and gain less than 1 lb!

That’s equivalent to eating 2 McDonald’s double cheeseburgers or 3-4 donuts a day on top of your bodies daily caloric needs.

Oh and one more thing…

Exercise was kept at constant, low levels. They verified compliance of this through questionnaires and direct measures of physical activity.

So no one could just “burn” off the extra calories by ramping up their exercise activity and skew the results.

So what’s the deal?

Why did results vary by a factor of 10 and no one even came close to gaining the 16 lbs.

Did some calories magically disappear?

Well, no. In fact, they were able to measure and account for 97% of the extra calories consumed. On average, 432 Cals were stored and 531 Cals were burned. Taking error into account this essentially accounts for all the extra calories.

So how were they burned with no intentional exercise activity?

The research essentially contributes the extra energy burned do to NEAT or Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is basically activity such as fidgeting, maintenance of posture, and other physical activities of daily life. (To see all 4 components of metabolism check out my YouTube video on the subject).

Though never specific as to how or why NEAT increases, they attribute NEAT activation as a familial trait. Meaning some peoples bodies naturally ramp up NEAT more effectively than others in response to overeating. This isn’t something that people in the study consciously did as a result of overeating. This is the genetic lottery component and why some people put on weight more easily than others.

What’s the takeaway?

The main point to this isn’t to argue or discuss what exactly contributed to this difference in weight gain among the participants. The point is to emphasize how complex the human body is, and trying to assign a mathematical formula to it just isn’t practical.

Using calorie math as a tool for a starting point is perfectly fine. But stressing out and trying to track every calorie that enters into your body is just not reasonable or necessary.

Everyone is unique. Everyone requires an individual approach that suits their current situation. No special or newly discovered diet is the answer.

If you would like to learn more how to implement a simple, effective nutritional strategy that gets away from diets and counting calories download my 4 habits of a great nutrition plan. It’s completely free.

It details the only 4 habits you need to follow to for a sustainable, effective nutrition plan.


Reference: Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science. 1999 Jan 8.

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