Still not losing weight? We’ve all been there at some point or another, regularly trying new exercise routines/diets, trying to obtain our ideal weight, hoping that this will finally be the time we get back on track.
It can definitely be frustrating, demotivating and depressing, to say the least!
But what might be the causes of these consistent failures?
Having undertaken a Master’s degree in Weight Management, I am aware of the various downfalls commonly encountered for many on their path to a healthier body weight.
In today’s article, I’ll be breaking down:
- The differences between fitness, physical activity and exercise
- EAT vs NEAT
- EAT vs NEAT explanations why you are not losing weight
- The importance of exercise for health
- Why exercise may increase calorie intake
- How cheat days can result in you not losing weight
The differences between fitness, physical activity and exercise
The terms fitness, physical activity and exercise are commonly used interchangeably between one another. However, they are not exactly the same thing.
For instance, fitness is the capacity to perform physical tasks such as strength, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, speed, balance and flexibility, among others.
Physical activity, on the other hand, refers to any muscular movement that raises energy expenditure above rest.
So from exercise to active daily life.
EAT vs NEAT
Now the energy expenditure (or calories burned) from exercise is called exercise activity thermogenesis (or EAT for short).
In comparison to EAT, the energy expenditure from active daily life is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT).
Therefore, exercise is actually a component of physical activity rather than a synonym of it and can be defined as structured physical activity with an intent to improve health and/or fitness.
A scheduled 8 am yoga class or workout, for example.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT) on the other hand is the calories expended outside of exercise, eating and sleeping.
So like using the stairs, doing chores, cycling to work, playing with your kids and doing errands.
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EAT vs NEAT explanations why you are not losing weight
This is relevant because when we start burning more calories through exercise, we tend to expend fewer calories towards NEAT, which is a significant amount of the calories we burn each day of physical activity.
For instance, 1 hour of exercise is equal to 4% of your day, while NEAT constitutes 63% of your day.
Let’s look at an example to explain this:
So here we have a graph showing our overall energy use over the course of a day (aka your total daily energy expenditure).
However, keep in mind that these percentages may vary slightly based on which article you are looking at.
At the bottom, we have BMR which is short for Basal metabolic rate and this is the number of calories your body needs per day to accomplish it’s most basic life-sustaining functions such as breathing, circulation, nutrient processing and cell production.
As you see, your BMR takes up the most of your total daily energy use with 60%, which makes sense given that it keeps us alive!
While TEF at the top stands for the thermic effect of food and represents the increase in metabolism after meals.
And then we have EAT and NEAT which, as we have mentioned already, together sum up the calories we burn from physical activity per day.
So as you can see, exercise takes up 10% of the calories used per day compared to the number of calories we use per day for active daily life (or NEAT) which is 20%.
I’m aware that regarding this you may be sceptical at first as you may be thinking “but I don’t sweat from active daily life, but I do from exercise so I must burn more calories from exercise, right?”.
Well, remember guys, sweating does not equate to calories used as it’s purpose is to cool your body down from exercise, so it does not overheat.
Every movement uses calories!
Which accumulate to become a significant proportion of your overall energy expenditure over the course of a day.
For instance, between active and inactive people, NEAT can actually vary by as much as 2000 calories per day due to leisure time activities and profession, so it’s contribution toward weight loss is notable (Von Loeffelholz & Birkenfeld, 2018).
The point I am trying to make here is not that it is better to focus on the calories burned from active daily life instead of exercise because generally more calories are burned from NEAT throughout the day.
Rather it is to show you how important it is to try still get up and do at least some of your chores and errands instead of just laying on the couch too much like some type of reward for exercising.
In fact, I cannot stress enough the importance of exercise in addition to it’s contribution towards weight reduction.
The importance of exercise for health
For example, these benefits from exercise that cannot be obtained from NEAT include:
- the ability to maintain or increase lean body mass which enhances your metabolism and means more calories burned during rest
- helps offset BMR decrease,
- improves mood and feelings of well-being,
- helps prevent and treat co-morbidities associated with being overweight or obese
- improves fitness & Cardio-vascular efficiency
- alongside promoting a healthy lifestyle.
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Why exercise may increase calorie intake
Now the second compensatory behaviour that may be hindering your attempt at weight loss as a result of exercise is consuming excessive calories as a reward for exercising.
For example, a study by King et al. (2012) suggests that there are several ways in which calories could increase in response to exercise. These include increased frequency of eating (e.g., snacking), selecting larger portions, and increased calorically dense food.
Again, guys, I am by no means suggesting this is a reason not to exercise, to be clear, I am merely recommending that we still need to be mindful to make the right food choices post-exercise.
Furthermore, it is not just exercise causing compensatory behaviour which may nullify progress towards a negative energy balance but also diet in the form of the well known, cheat days!
How cheat days can result in you not losing weight
Let’s take a look at an example of what can happen to your weight loss progress due to having excessive cheat days.
So guys, say we have a maintenance Caloric intake of 2000 calories per day in order to not gain or lose weight (indicated in the picture by the broken orange vertical line). If you would like to check out our video on calculating your maintenance caloric intake, please do so here.
Now, if we want to lose weight, we will generally want 500 calories less than our maintenance caloric intake (indicated by the broken green vertical line), which would be 1500 calories per day.
As you can see, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday we were well on track as we consumed 1500 calories (again 500 calories below our maintenance caloric intake of 2000 to lose weight) resulting in a combined total deficit for the week to -2500 calories (5 days x -500 calories).
However, the problem is that we had cheats days on Friday and Saturday which resulted in the consumption of 3250 calories per day (meaning that there was an extra 1250 calories each day than our maintenance caloric intake resulting in a combined total surplus for the week to be +2500 calories.
So even though we met the target calories for weight loss on five days of the week, the addition of the excessive calories on the cheat days meant that the overall weekly average was 2000 calories equally our maintenance caloric intake.
Basically meaning that no weight was loss or gained over the course of the week.
Or, in other words, -2500 caloric deficit + 2500 caloric surplus = 0 (no weight lost or gained over the course of the week)
Therefore, this is how the addition of cheats days can actually result in you not losing weight from exercise and diet.
Instead of thinking of cheat days as the availability of limitless calories, we still need to remain responsible and look for healthier, lower-calorie alternatives for cheat meals. 🙂
To conclude, there is always a reason guys why someone isn’t losing excess body fat, whether it be down to compensatory mechanisms from exercise or just plain overindulgence on the weekends.
What is important is to take notice of these setbacks while dieting so adjustments can be made to shed the excess weight once and for all.
If you would like help achieving your ideal body weight, be sure to contact us here about our highly effective and evidence-based weight management program!
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You can find out what some of our previous clients had to say about the program on our success stories page!
To read our blog about the different types of body fat, please follow the link here.
King, N. A., Horner, K., Hills, A. P., Byrne, N. M., Wood, R. E., Bryant, E., . . . Blundell, J. E. (2011). Exercise, appetite and weight management: Understanding the compensatory responses in eating behaviour and how they contribute to variability in exercise-induced weight loss. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46(5), 315-322. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2010.082495
von Loeffelholz, C., & Birkenfeld, A. (2018). The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/