The Festive Season, Short-Term Overfeeding & Your Weight


The festive season is upon us, which for most, means a never-ending supply of delicious tasty Calorie-dense food.

Bitmoji Image

For some people, like those who are trying to lose fat or those that are trying to maintain weight or even those people who are just mindful of their food intake, the festive season and the effect it could have on their waistline may cause some anxiety.

But, fear not that pav and choc-ripple cake this festive season.

A study published in 1985, looked at 5 healthy men (22-27yo). All were non-diabetic, non-smokers. These 5 men ate 60% more Calories than the amount they would require to maintain their weight. They did this for 9 days.

They increased their food intake for 9 days by an average of 1,914 Calories each day to see how much weight they would gain.

They went from eating about 3,279 Calories to eating ~5,193 Calories. These Calorie intakes were a little different between subjects as they were specific for the individual subjects.

This diet was fairly low in protein with protein making up just 15% of total calorie intake. This is important as the effects of overfeeding on a high protein vs low protein diet are different.

A low protein diet is less favourable for weight maintenance/weight loss and probably more closely resembles the typical diet over the festive season (less protein, foods high in fat and carbohydrate such as dessert type food).


The study showed that on average the subjects gained 3.2kg of weight in 9 days. BUT, only 56% (1.8kg) of this was actual body fat.

The study also showed thatoverfeeding caused an initial rapid weight gain that became slower over the 9 days (see fig below).


The remaining 44% (1.5kg) of weight gain was most likely due to increased body water content. Organ mass or non-muscle lean tissue may also have contributed.


Other studies show similar results with fat mass gain making up 60-70% of total weight gained. Some of these studies are longer in duration though so may not be as applicable to the festive season.

If you are interested in reading a complete summary of the literature including overfeeding on carbohydrates vs fats or overfeeding on high vs low protein, follow this link.


If you are looking to make calorie conscious decisions with your food selection over this period consider filling your plate first with lean protein sources (meat, fish etc) and plants (vegetables, fruit & salads). Consider low calorie alcohol options or sugar free sodas as mixers. Swap full fat cream for low fat cream. Swap high calorie dressings for low calorie dressings. Use low sugar jelly. There are plenty of easy swaps like these to help reduce calorie intake.


With the research above in mind, you can overeat between Christmas and New Years Day and potentially not gain much fat. This of course depends on the exact amount of overeating and total Calories you consume in this period. Obviously, if you decide Christmas Day is a great chance for that 10,000 Calorie challenge your fat gain may be larger.

While you may gain weight over the next few days, remember that not all of it is fat.

So, relax, enjoy the time spent with family & friends. Give yourself permission to eat anything. Enjoy good food without feeling guilty, just don’t eat like a complete moron.

Once the festive season is over go back to the way of eating that had you on track for your goals. No biggy.

In 10 years time that Christmas that you ate all the food you enjoy won’t be a factor.

Christmas is no time for Tupperware, chicken and broccoli.

If you need help achieving a weight goal, contact me.


Daniel Reeves

Physiotherapist, MNU Certified Nutritionist

The Strength Den, Burnie Tasmania

Non-Tracking Methods & Habit-Based Guidelines For Nutrition


While tracking methods like tracking calorie intake or macros have a lot of benefits they are not for everyone. Even though tracking can be a great tool for educating yourself and helping to change body composition some people will find it monotonous, difficult, time consuming and it can cause some people to become neurotic and obsessive.

Tracking is also not a long term goal or sustainable for most people. For the majority of people the goal is to become educated enough and develop good nutrition habits so that you don’t have to track calories forever. The goal is to get to a point where you can maintain your ideal physique without needing to track i.e. effortlessly maintain your weight.

The good news is that there are ‘non-tracking’ methods and habit-based approaches that you can implement to help achieve and maintain your ideal weight / physique if you don’t like tracking.


Non-tracking methods are strategies and methods you can implement to control your intake of calories to help you achieve your ideal physique, that DO NOT involve counting/tracking macros or calories in any shape or form. There is no tracking involved.

Non-tracking methods can include global guidelines e.g. protein at every meal, increasing fruit & vegetable intake or just simple strategies you follow e.g. portion control or skipping a meal.


  • Less time consuming
  • Potentially less obsessive
  • Practical (able to be done most of the time)
  • Help to build better nutrition habits


  • Can be more restrictive. Restriction can stimulate the want to eat restricted food.
  • Harder to manipulate
  • Hunger can be a major issue
  • Need good awareness of fullness factors and things that influence fullness e.g. food choices, sleep and food palatability


  • When your goals are not too time dependent (e.g. you want to lose 10kg but don’t mind how long it takes)
  • When you want to build better nutritional habits
  • When you don’t want to use a tracking method


People who can’t stand the thought of tracking calories.

People who are at risk of developing disordered eating or eating disorders.

People who have obsessive tendencies (tracking can become a bit obsessive in nature for some people).

People who don’t like numbers and data.

When deciding if a non-tracking approach may be better for you than a tracking approach, it is a good idea to consider the following…

  • The extremity of your goal (how extreme your goal is). Do you want to lose 10kg over 10 months or are you trying to lose 10kg over 8 weeks. The more extreme your goal is the more likely that a tracking approach may be better.
  • How specific your goal is
  • Your personality and preferences e.g. if you hate numbers you might not enjoy tracking but for some that love numbers they love tracking
  • Your nutritional knowledge and current habits
  • Your lifestyle (the method you choose must be realistic for your lifestyle).

Just because you aren’t tracking calories doesn’t mean that calories aren’t important. 

Most of the methods that I’m about to share with you are designed to reduce your calorie intake to help create a calorie deficit which will lead to fat loss. Energy balance is still king and the energy balance principle will always apply (energy balance principle link here).


These methods like any fat loss method are designed to reduce total calorie intake to help you remain in a calorie deficit when fat loss is the goal. For those that aren’t trying to lose fat these methods can help build better nutritional habits and improve your nutrition.

  • Focus majority of intake on protein and plants (fruits and veg)
  • Focus majority of intake on low calorie per bite foods. An extension of this is swapping higher calorie per bite food for lower calorie per bite food some examples include 
    • fatty steak → lean steak
    • full fat yoghurt → low fat yoghurt
    • Rice → Kidney beans
    • Pasta → potato
    • Soda → Diet Soda
    • High calorie sauces → low calorie sauces
  • Choose foods with low palatability (foods that aren’t as tasty are less likely to be overeaten)
  • Reduce food variety
  • Reduce sugar intake (sugar makes things tasty which makes foods easier to over consume impacting calorie intake.
  • Have a protein shake before your evening meal
  • Drink 1 glass of water before each meal
  • Make one meal a large salad (light on the dressing)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat mindfully e.g. eat at a table (not in front of the TV)
  • Increase protein intake
  • Skip a meal
  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Eat a low-carb diet
  • Meal replacement shake 
  • Remove carbohydrates from a part of the day e.g. not having carbs at dinner
  • Have either a fat or carbohydrate source in a meal but not both at the same time (fat and carb separation).
  • Intermittent Fasting (going a period of time without eating)
    • Windowed Eating: Eating only within a specific time period e.g. 8hr food window from 11am to 7pm
    • Alternate Day Fasting: Eat one day, don’t eat the next day but eat normally the following day.
    • Eat, Stop, Eat: 1 day of not eating each week

As you can see there are many options for those that do not want to track calories. There is nothing wrong with tracking and in most cases a short period of tracking calorie intake can help to educate yourself on how much (how many calories) you are eating. Sometimes we need to check the speedo to make sure we aren’t speeding and sometimes we need to check our calorie intake to see roughly how much we are eating.

I think non-tracking, habit-based approaches should be the goal for the majority of people. Improve your nutrition knowledge, improve your nutrition habits and enjoy food while effortlessly maintaining your ideal physique.

Habits & Your Identity


There’s a section in the book Atomic Habits where the author (James Clear) talks about our habits shaping our identity. This really resonated with me so I thought I would share it with you.

James talks about beginning the process of changing your habits by focusing on who you want to become (your identity) rather than what you want to achieve (outcome based). There is an example given of 2 people who are offered a cigarette. 

One person says “No thanks I’m trying to quit” which sounds fine but this person still identifies themselves as a smoker who is trying to be something else. 

The other person says “No thanks I’m not a smoker”. A small difference that signifies a shift in identity. They no longer identify themselves as someone who smokes.

A habit becoming part of your identity is a strong form of intrinsic motivation. 

Rather than being someone who says they ‘want’ this become a person who ‘is’ this.

The more pride attached to a certain aspect of your identity the more motivated you will be to continue habits that reflect this identity e.g. if you take pride in being physically strong you won’t want to miss a training session as that would not support your self-identity.

You could be training for a marathon but the goal is not just to run 42km, the real goal is to become a runner. 

The goal is not to lose fat and maintain a healthy weight, the real goal is to become someone that eats nutritious foods and controls their calorie intake.

People who use this identity approach can find it easier to continue with their newly formed habit/s.

“A person who incorporates exercise into their identity doesn’t have to convince themselves to train.” They are simply acting like the person they already believe themselves to be.

Along these same lines is the story of a woman who was trying to lose weight. She succeeded at losing weight just by thinking to herself “what would a healthy person do?”. For example, when deciding what to eat or when faced with taking the stairs or the elevator she would ask herself this question and act as a ‘healthy’ person would. She started identifying herself as a healthy person, her actions followed suit and she lost weight.

On to how this resonated with me… 

Over the years I’ve had a few people tell me that I “must be really motivated” or ask me how I am “so motivated”, in regards to being a self-coached athlete in an individual sport that trains by himself.

My reply would be along the lines of “I am intrinsically motivated to do my best and training is just something I do now, a non-negotiable, it’s part of being a runner.” Without knowing it I was using this self-identity principle.

I don’t have any more motivation than the next person. I am focused on running as best I can and making sure I don’t retire thinking I never reached my potential. 

I Identify myself as someone who is committed, disciplined and dedicated. Not someone who is overly motivated. If I wake up early to go to the gym or go for a run I struggle to get out of bed just like anyone else. It’s not motivation that gets me out of bed, it’s the fact that I identify myself as an athlete who is dedicated, disciplined etc and to live up to that identity I need to go and train. 

I finish work for the day drained and tired and the last thing I feel like doing is trying to sprint around an athletics track but if I don’t do it then I can’t call myself a dedicated athlete.

Another example of how self-identity can help habits is if you’re really needing to give up a specific food or bad habit. Rather than saying “I’m not allowed to eat that” you could change your inner dialogue to something like “I don’t eat that food anymore”. Similar to the cigarette example above.

So next time you’re attempting to implement a new habit or kick a bad one, try focusing your habits and actions on the type of person you want to become not the end result that you want to achieve.

I’m about halfway through Atomic Habits and it’s one of the best books I’ve read, highly recommended.

How To Eat More, FEEL FULL and Lose Fat – Food Volume & Calorie Density

How To Eat More, FEEL FULL And Lose Fat – Food Volume & Calorie Density

When it comes to dieting there are a few key concepts that are helpful to understand. Two of these are food volume and calorie density which tie in together. Understanding these will help with better food selection and hunger levels, making fat loss or weight gain phases easier.

Food volume = the physical size (volume) of the food/meal. A larger food volume will help to keep you feeling full as it will take up more physical space in your stomach and take longer to digest (see image).

Calorie density = The number of calories in a given amount of food. For example the number of calories per bite, per spoonful or the number of calories per 100g (as seen on nutrition panel labels) all describe calorie density.

See the image below which shows 200 calories from different foods. Notice the differences in food volume for the same amount of calories.

In the image above, broccoli and celery have low calorie density and trying to get 200 calories from these foods will fill you up. Peanut butter and bacon however, are calorie dense so you don’t need much food volume before you have consumed 200 calories.

The image below depicts how much space in the stomach is taken up by 500 calories from different foods. As you can see 500 calories from fruits and veggies is a large food volume and will take up much more space in your stomach, leading to a better feeling of fullness as opposed to 500 calories from oil or cheese.


Some foods are super helpful for fat loss and dieting because they have low calorie density. This means that you can eat a large volume of food for a low number of calories. This will help make you feel full so you don’t feel as hungry compared to foods that have high calorie density.

Examples include salad, vegetables, fruits such as strawberries, chobani fit yoghurt etc.

When someone is talking about eating more and losing fat this is usually what they are referring to; eating a larger volume of food by selecting foods that have low calorie density.

When someone reports “I hardly eat anything and still can’t lose weight” they are referring to food volume not the amount of calories they are consuming.


Food volume and calorie density are also important for those trying to gain weight and maximise muscle growth. If someone doesn’t feel hungry and struggles to consume enough calories then choosing foods that have high caloric density will be helpful.

The same goes for endurance athletes who require large amounts of calories to fuel their training. Sometimes choosing a more calorie dense food will be more beneficial so they are more easily able to get the fuel they need for training.

Examples include a smoothie with oats and peanut butter, granola, an oat slice bar (nearly 500kcal per serve), dark chocolate, olive oil, coconut oil, nut butters, nuts, cookies, doughnuts etc.

Use food volume and calorie density to your advantage to make dieting easier.

Things You Should Understand


I’ve learned a lot about training, nutrition and performance over the years through education, trial and error and training. I wish I could have been aware of them from a much earlier age.

Here are 23 things that I think you should understand and I wish I understood earlier…

1. Energy balance and creating a calorie deficit is the principle that elicits fat loss so all diets must cause a calorie deficit for fat loss to occur.

2. If fat loss is not occurring, you’re not in a calorie deficit.

3. There are many methods to elicit a calorie deficit, the best one is the one that you can stick to.

4. All diets that cause fat loss are just a calorie deficit in disguise.

5. Weight loss and fat loss are two different things.

6. Weight gain and fat gain are two different things.

7. Carbs do not make you fat, eating too many calories makes you fat.

8. There are 7700 calories in 1kg fat, so you would need to overeat a lot to gain 1kg in a day.

9. Eating and training for your body type is complete BS.

10. You’re not a ‘hard gainer’, you just don’t eat enough calories to gain weight and you’re not training effectively.

11. You’re not skinny because you run, you’re skinny because you don’t eat enough and don’t lift heavy stuff enough.

12. You don’t need a meal plan.

13. You don’t need a fat burner

14. There are no magical supplements that will help you achieve your goals (except caffeine and creatine that shit is magical).

15. Muscle gain is extremely slow, persist, trust the process and have some patience.

16. Your calorie surplus does not have to be large to optimise muscle gain, if you ‘eat big to get big’ you’ll just get fat.

17. Exercise contributes a lot less to total energy expenditure (the calories that you burn) than you think (~10%).

18. Resistance / weight training does not stunt growth or make you slow.

19. To increase vertical jump you should lift weights, get stronger and perform different plyometrics & jumps.

20. You are not born a sprinter or distance runner.

21. Sprinting is a skill, can be trained and should be trained.

22. Long slow running makes long slow runners.

23. Pushing and continuing to exercise with injuries leads to more time on the sidelines.

Food is not inherently good or bad


Seeing food as good or bad, clean or dirty and healthy or unhealthy is a form of dichotomous thinking, also known as ‘black and white thinking’.

This type of thinking is not helpful for a number of reasons.
⚠️“Dichotomous thinking has been associated with overeating and increased body weight. Individuals who attempt to maintain or lose body weight via dietary restraint (restricting foods) are more susceptible to excessive eating episodes”
⚠️“Dichotomous thinking toward food may have a negative impact on the ability to achieve and maintain a desirable body weight.  It may also mediate the relationship between dietary restraint and binge eating due to forming rigid dietary rules and increasing the probability of disordered eating”
⚠️“Thinking of food in black & white could lead to higher rates of binge eating, resulting in excess calorie consumption leading to weight gain”
✅“There should be a strong focus to promote a more flexible attitude toward food in an effort to improve weight loss maintenance”

Thinking of food as good or bad is unhelpful, we can instead think of food as follows to promote a more positive relationship with food.
Foods are more nutrient dense or less nutrient dense.

Foods are either more helpful or less helpful.
Foods can be more optimal and less optimal.
Whether a food is more or less optimal / more helpful or less helpful is individual and will depend on the dose, your goals, context, and situation.
What is optimal for one person and their goals may not be optimal for another person in a different situation with different goals. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
For instance, it may be more optimal for someone to allow themselves to eat a small portion (dose) of chocolate for better adherence during a fat loss phase rather than eliminating it and feeling deprived.

To summarise, foods are not good or bad, clean or dirty. Consider the dose, goal, context and situation.
Dichotomous thinking is not helpful and can have a negative impact on eating behaviour 👎🏻
Be mindful of your choices and how they will affect your goals, happiness and health.

There’s no need to demonise or fear certain foods 🙌🏻 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

You should give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything at anytime 🤤


Dichotomous Thinking Toward Food as a Mediator Between Eating Behaviour and BMI – Sohee Lee

What are macros & what should mine be?


Macros aka Macronutrients. 

A macronutrient is a nutrient that the body requires in large (macro) amounts. For us humans there are 3 macronutrients that we require & consume. Protein, Carbohydrates & Fats. 

Along with alcohol, these macros provide our body with calories. Protein, Carbs and Fat serve many important roles in our body. 

Let’s dive in and look at each macronutrient individually.


“Protein to grow”

Protein is a large molecule made up of smaller molecules called amino acids.There are 20 amino acids of which our body can produce 11, the other 9 must come from food we eat.

Why is protein important?

Protein is important for a number of bodily functions. Some functions & benefits of protein include…

  • Immune, hormone & enzyme function 
  • Healthy hair & skin
  • Helps to maintain muscle while in a calorie deficit or as a result of ageing
  • Important for muscle growth (stimulates muscle protein synthesis)
  • Aids recovery from training & maximises adaptations from training
  • Increases satiety (feeling of fullness). Important if trying to lose weight
  • Higher thermic effect / TEF. Important if trying to lose weight
  • Important for sports performance (the most important macro in terms of needs analysis for someone in a deficit/athlete)

How many calories are in protein?

1 gram of protein contains 4 calories

How Much Do I need?

Currently the recommended intake of protein is around 0.8g/kg of bodyweight. However, this is the minimum you need to avoid deficiency, it is not the amount for optimal health. You should aim to consume more than this. Below I have summarised protein recommendations based on a few common goals.

Fat Loss. Maximise muscle retention while in a Calorie deficitPeople trying to lose fat / weight1.5-2.2g/kg or 2.3- 3.1g/kg of fat free mass Whatever your preference
Muscle Gain. Maximise resistance training adaptationsBodybuilders, people wanting to build muscle1.6-2.7g/kgDistributed evenly throughout the day. 0.4-0.55g/kg/meal over 4 meals or every 3-4hrs. Bolus before bed
Endurance PerformanceEndurance Athletes1.2-1.7g/kgDistribute evenly throughout the day
Maintaining muscle mass / prevention of Sarcopenia>40yo1.2-1.6g/kgAt least 1 serving per day that is ~30g or 0.4-0.6g/kg + include protein source at breakfast
General recommendation for optimising healthGeneral Population1.2-1.6g/kgWhatever your preference

e.g. If I was 80kg, wanted to lose fat and was trying to eat 1.6g/kg of protein that would be 1.6 x 80 = 128g of protein. This would be 512 calories (128g x 4)

Foods high in protein

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Protein Powder
  • NOT nuts


“Carbs to go”

Carbohydrates are made up of the molecules carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (CHO). 

They are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, vegetables and grain etc.

Contrary to what some geezers say, carbs do NOT make you fat. Too many calories (more than you burn) over time make you fat.

There are several types of carbohydrates

  1. Monosaccharides = single units. Glucose, Galacrose & Fructose
  2. Disaccharides = two monosaccharides
    • Maltose = Glucose + Glucose
    • Lactose = Glucose + Galactose
    • Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose (this is table sugar)
  3. Polysaccharides = Linked monosaccharides
    • Cellulose
    • Starch
    • Glycogen

Why Are Carbohydrates Important

1. Carbs are delicious

2. They are the main and preferred source of energy for humans. Something interesting to know is that carbohydrates are not essential. However, they are the primary fuel source for the brain and central nervous system so they are kind of very important. Carbohydrates are also where we get our fibre from so are important for digestive health. The bottom line is that we need some carbohydrate in our diet for optimal health. 

3. Carbs are also important for fuelling exercise for optimal performance (especially high intensity exercise) and helping to maximise muscle retention during training. The amount of carbs you require will depend on things like body weight, training, training volume, environmental factors and your goals. 

As carbs are not essential, reducing them (not eliminating them) while trying to lose fat is a common approach to reduce calorie intake to create a calorie deficit. However, a zero carb diet would NOT be optimal health or performance.

How Many Calories Are in Carbs?

1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories

How much do I need?

GoalAmount per day
Fat Loss1-3g/kg
Muscle Gain / Strength Athlete2-6g/kg
Field/Court Athlete4-8g/kg
Endurance Athlete8-12g/kg
Health (General Population)1-4g/kg
Stay Alive0g/kg

Examples of Sources of Carbohydrate

  • Fruit & Vegetables
  • Oats & Cereals
  • Lollies
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Energy gels
  • Soda


“Fat for mojo”

Most (95%) of dietary fats are in the form of triglycerides. Triglycerides are made of glycerol and fatty acids. 

There are 3 types of fatty acids: 

  1. Saturated: e.g. found in cheese, milk, red meat, coconut oil, butter
  2. Monounsaturated: e.g. found in olive oil, almonds, avocado
  3. Polyunsaturated: e.g. found in salmon, sunflower oil

Essential fatty acids include Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-Linolenic acid) & Omega 6 fatty acid (Linoleic acid). These are polyunsaturated fatty acids.

There are also Trans Fats. Also called partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which is found in margine, fried food, parstried and highly processed snack foods.Trans fats have been shown to increase risk of cardiovascular disease so best to minimise these for health.

Why Are Fats Important?

  • Cell signalling
  • Electron carriers
  • Components of cell membranes
  • Immune function/maintain a healthy immune system
  • Help with production of sex steroid hormone 
  • Production of recovery hormones
  • Help absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Improve blood lipid profiles
  • Large energy source
  • Fuel for low intensity exercise thus preserving carbohydrate stores
  • Tasty

How Many Calories Are in Fats?

1g of Fat contains 9 calories. Fat is the most calorie dense of the macronutrients.

How Much Do I Need?

For fats we still use a % of total calories. However, usually for health we want between 0.5-1.2g/kg with the lower range being people in a calorie deficit depending on their preference of food choice.

A general guide is ~25% of total calories but more specifically,

  • Gen pop = 15-80% of total calories
  • Endurance athlete = 22% of total calories
  • Strength athlete / bodybuilder = 25-45% of total calories

It’s a good idea not going below 15%, try and consume a moderate amount between 20-40% of total calories

Example Sources of Fat

  • Avocado
  • Oils e.g. olive oil, coconut oil
  • Nuts
  • Butter
  • Deep fried food
  • Pastries
  • Fatty cuts of meat and mince
  • Cheese
  • Oily fish
  • Dark chocolate
  • Full fat yoghurt

“Protein to grow, Carbs to go, Fats for mojo”

What is the magical macro split?

Many a guru will tell you that you need a certain macro split for your goal or body type 😂 They will swear you need a specific ratio of carbs to protein to fats as a percentage of your total calories. Should it be 40,20,40 or maybe 50,30,20?? I’ll tell it to you straight.


Say it with me again “There are no magical macro splits”

The amount of protein you require is based on your goal and body weight.

For example as we saw above, for maximising muscle gain 1.6-2.7g/kg is recommended and for health 1.2-1.6g/kg.

We know that the amount of carbs and fats can change on a daily basis & vary however you prefer with no real impact on fat loss or health, unless it tips you into a surplus which will cause weight gain.

Said another way, if fat loss is your goal focus on hitting your protein target, then make up the rest of your calorie allowance from fats and carbs however you prefer. It won’t make any difference to your fat loss goals.

Here’s the nail in the coffin for macro splits

Say you eat 1.8g/kg of protein for the day but then you eat less carbs and fats. Your ratio of protein will change and now be larger, making your ratio / macro split completely useless.

This is why macro splits are incredibly impractical and pointless.

Rather than bang on here, Uncle Martin provided 2 very timely posts on this matter read them below for a great summary.


International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition.

Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health.

Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation

High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance

Carbohydrate Availability and Physical Performance: Physiological Overview and Practical Recommendations

What Is NEAT & How Is It Important For Fat Loss?


NEAT is the amount of Calories burned / energy expended during activity that is not sleeping, eating or intentional exercise e.g. hitting your daily step target, standing at your desk, gardening, walking to work, doing housework and fidgeting etc.

This definition of NEAT encompasses both conscious and subconscious activity. It is helpful to be aware of the differences between conscious and subconscious activity and how they influence energy balance. We can define both conscious and subconscious activity.

Non-Exercise Physical Activity Thermogenesis (NEPAT) = conscious

None-Exercise Non-Activity Thermogenesis (NENAT) = subconscious

Non-Exercise Physical Activity Thermogenesis (NEPAT) 

This is the amount of calories burned during conscious activity that is not sleeping, eating or intentional exercise e.g. hitting your daily step target, standing at your desk, gardening, walking to work, doing housework etc.

Non-Exercise Non-Activity Thermogenesis (NENAT):

This is the amount of calories burned during subconscious activity that is not sleeping, eating or daily activity/exercise. Some examples include fidgeting, facial tone and speed of speech. 

The amount of calories burned & contribution of each to TDEE is dependent on individual activity levels.

Both NEPAT and NENAT can change as a result of dieting and both can have a role in increasing calorie expenditure to help achieve a larger calorie deficit

NEPAT & NENAT can increase with overfeeding and decrease with underfeeding. For example, some people will subconsciously move and fidget less or even talk slower when in a calorie deficit to conserve energy. Some people will fidget and move more when in a calorie surplus to increase energy expenditure to try and reduce weight gain.

Thus, NEAT and its sub-categories are a critical component in determining if we will maintain, lose or gain fat. 

The importance of neat for fat loss & Body weight control

Individual differences in NEAT are related mostly to environmental and biological factors that are influenced by people’s different occupations, lifestyle habits and leisure-time activities. They can also be influenced by molecular and genetic factors.

Increasing NEAT can influence energy balance & increase TDEE a further 500-1500 calories per day. It is therefore an important consideration to help achieve a larger calorie deficit, especially if you have a sedentary job and do not exercise.

Differences in NEAT help explain why two identical people can eat the same total calories and one (who doesn’t consider NEAT) gains fat while the other, who is aware of increasing NEAT loses fat.

The graph below compares the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) / calories burned in one day of a hypothetical sedentary person with differing activity levels and someone with a more active occupation who exercises the same amount. Consider the difference between the groups in terms of weekly calories burned & how it would help fat loss efforts.

Using the example above we can consider the differences in total calories burned per week. By calculating weekly energy expenditure (daily calories burned x 7) we can see why increasing NEAT can have such a large impact on helping fat loss. 

If we compare the sedentary person that exercises to someone who has a sedentary job, exercises and increases NEAT there is a 2,800kcal increase in weekly energy expenditure. Considering that in 0.5kg of fat there is theoretically 3,850kcal, the sedentary person that exercises and does all they can to increase NEAT will have much more fat loss than one that only exercises.

All non-exercise activity helps to increase energy expenditure and create a larger caloric deficit to help you lose fat. Manipulation of caloric intake (from food consumption) will have the most significant effect on the energy balance equation and fat loss efforts BUT increasing NEAT is a great idea and will help immensely.


The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity (2018)

Nonexercise activity thermogenesis in obesity management (2015)

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (2002)

Components of Energy Expenditure (Calories Burned)


Energy expenditure can be thought of as Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE is the total amount of calories burned in one day. This is the calories out part of the energy balance equation.

TDEE is made up of 4 components.

  1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
  3. Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)
  4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Now, these terms might look and sound confusing but I’ll break them down below so that you have a solid & practical understanding of each component.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The minimum amount of energy / Calories required to keep your body functioning and alive at complete rest. This includes energy expended for functions such as brain function, digestion (RMR) and respiration.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

The amount of energy/calories your body burns storing, absorbing and digesting food

TEF accounts for ~8-15% of TDEE 

Each macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) has a different thermic effect. That is, they each require a different amount of calories for storing, absorbing and digestion. 

TEF of each macronutrient

  • Carbs: 5-10% of calories from carbs
  • Protein: 20-30% of calories from protein
  • Fat: 0-5% of calories from fat

An example: If you consumed 100 Calories of protein, 20-30 of those Calories (20-30%) will be burned just to store, absorb and digest the protein. If you consumed 100 Calories of fat, 0-5 calories (0-5%) will be burned and if you consumed 100 Calories of carbs 5-10 calories will be burned.

As you can see protein has the highest TEF, that is it requires more energy to metabolise, that is it requires the most calories for storing, absorbing and digesting. A diet higher in protein can help to (slightly) increase TDEE compared to a diet that is lower in protein.  This is why you will hear that high protein diets can have a metabolic advantage.

Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)

The amount of calories burned during intentional exercise

EAT varies greatly between individuals depending on their exercise habits. In general, it can account for between 0-30% of TDEE.

The amount of calories burned during exercise will depend on the type, duration, intensity, volume and of exercise.

As you become fitter and adapted to a particular exercise your body becomes more efficient at fuelling that exercise and you will burn less calories during that exercise. For example, if someone starts running their body will become more efficient at providing energy to fuel running and less calories will be burned. 

EAT is also usually a lot less than you may think. 

One study found that those who exercise, do so, for less than 2 hours per week, making the contribution of EAT to TDEE negligible. EAT contributed less than 100 calories per day or 1-2% of TDEE for the week.

For the majority of people EAT will account for 0-10% of total calories burned. The upper limits of 30% are seen in endurance athletes.

So, exercise doesn’t contribute that much to total energy expenditure. This is in part why you won’t out-exercise poor nutritional habits/behaviours.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

NEAT is the amount of Calories burned / energy expended during activity that is not sleeping, eating or intentional exercise e.g. hitting your daily step target, standing at your desk, gardening, walking to work, doing housework and fidgeting etc.

NEAT can account for as little as 6% to as much as 50% of TDEE depending on an individual’s activity levels. Calories burned through NEAT can vary up to 2000 calories per day between 2 individuals of similar size, depending on their activity levels.

NEAT is very important for those seeking fat loss or weight maintenance.

NEAT is the predominant component of activity thermogenesis i.e. it can contribute more to TDEE than calories burned from intentional exercise….You can burn more calories by increasing your NEAT than performing intentional exercise!

NEAT is also the most variable of the components of TDEE and can help greatly to achieve a caloric deficit or a larger caloric deficit. Therefore, it is an essential tool for fat loss and should not be overlooked.

Putting this all together. If someone is maintaining weight on 2500kcal per day the breakdown of their energy expenditure could look like this.

  • TEF = 250kcal
  • EAT = 125kcal
  • NEAT = 625kcal
  • BMR = 1500kcal

Understanding the components of energy expenditure can help you to make decisions that will help to increase total energy expenditure if fat loss is your goal.


The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity (2018)

Energy Balance


Energy balance is the term used to describe the relationship between energy intake and energy expenditure. i.e. Calories in  vs Calories out.

The energy balance principle is THE GREATEST PRIORITY for any fat loss attempt. It is the underlying principle that results in changes in body fat.

The balance between energy intake (calorie intake) and energy expenditure (calorie expenditure) over time will determine whether you maintain, lose or gain fat/weight.

  • If you are in a negative energy balance, also called a calorie deficit, where calories in is less than calories out, you will lose fat.
  • If you are in a state of energy balance, also called maintenance calories, you will maintain your current level of body fat.
  • If you are in a positive energy balance, also called a calorie surplus, where calories in is more than calories out, you will gain fat.

While it may come across that weight management is as simple as calories in vs calories out, things aren’t quite so simple. As you can see, there are multiple components to both calorie intake and calorie expenditure and they can all have an influence on your resultant energy balance.

Something that is essential to understand is that energy balance is DYNAMIC!

This means that energy balance will constantly change in response to a number of (biological and behavioural) factors. A change in something on one side of the equation (e.g. energy intake) can influence factors on the other side of the equation (e.g. energy expenditure) in unpredictable and sometimes unintended ways.

For instance, if you are in a calorie deficit and lose weight, your basal metabolic rate and total energy expenditure will reduce as less energy is needed to fuel and move your smaller body. As you lose weight your body requires less calories to meet its energy needs and maintain its current weight.

Another example may be that if you are in a calorie deficit and losing weight, you might consciously and/or subconsciously reduce your NEAT (energy expended from activity that is not intentional exercise) by choosing not to move as much, not taking the stairs or fidgeting less etc. Your body wants to maintain its current state (homeostasis) and can employ strategies that result in reduced energy expenditure e.g. making you feel tired so you don’t want to move. This reduction of total energy expenditure will reduce the size of your calorie deficit. It’s possible that your NEAT and total energy expenditure could reduce enough that you are no longer in a calorie deficit. 

This paragraph above could explain why your fat loss has plateaued!

The dynamic interplay between the two sides of the energy balance equation should not be overlooked.⠀⠀⠀

As Uncle Martin Macdonald says “weight loss is as simple as calories in vs calories out, it’s just that calories in vs calories out isn’t that simple”.

 Let’s take a deeper look at the 3 states of energy balance

Maintenance Calories (Energy Balanced)

Achieved when calorie intake is equal to calorie expenditure. If calorie intake and expenditure are equal over a period of time weight will be maintained.

Maintenance calories will change depending on your energy balance history. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

For instance, if you have been in a negative energy balance for a period of time and lost weight, your maintenance calories will be less than what they were before you started losing weight. You’re now a smaller human so you require less calories to fuel your body. This is part of the reason why you need to have a plan for when the fat loss phase of your diet has finished.

Because, if you go back to your previous level of calorie intake (prior to weight loss) and neglect the change in calorie maintenance, you will end up in a calorie surplus and likely regain the fat you lost.

You should return to your new maintenance calories as soon as possible after a dieting phase

The Calorie Deficit (Negative Energy Balance)

Achieved when Calorie intake is less than Calorie expenditure and results in fat loss.

Important for those wanting to lose fat. If you’re not in a calorie deficit, you won’t lose fat.

If you needed 2400 calories per day to function and support your activity levels but you consume only 2000kcal, your body needs to dig into its stored energy for the extra 400kcal to fuel your body. If overtime your calorie intake is less than what your body requires, you will use more and more of the stored energy which will result in fat loss.

Any means of creating a calorie deficit will result in fat loss. A calorie deficit may also result in the loss of muscle mass.

A way to ensure weight lost is fat and not muscle is to have adequate protein intake and perform resistance training that provides enough stimulus to maintain muscle tissue.

If you tried one of the many diet methods out there and didn’t lose weight, it’s because you were NOT in a state of negative energy balance, a calorie deficit was NOT present.

If calories in is less than calories out, you are in a calorie deficit and you will lose fat.

Remember, energy balance is dynamic. If body fat is lost from reducing calorie intake, basal metabolic rate (BMR) can decline because a smaller body requires less energy. This can cause total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) to fall below predicted levels.

If exercise and moderate caloric restriction are combined to achieve weight loss, TDEE is maintained at or above estimated levels. So maintaining higher daily energy needs (via increasing energy expenditure) can make It easier to maintain body weight after a dieting period.

For example, 70kg female loses 10kg, her BMR & TDEE will now be lower and depending on calorie intake she may achieve energy balance (i.e. no more fat loss). But, if she were to expend energy via continuing to exercise or keep NEAT high, this may increase TDEE so that a negative energy balance is maintained for longer resulting in further fat loss.

Because BMR will now be lower than it was prior to weight loss, she may need to continue expending more energy when she returns to caloric maintenance so as not to end up in a calorie surplus and gain weight. This is why having an exit strategy and exercise are helpful for maintaining weight after a fat loss phase.

The Calorie Surplus (Positive Energy Balance)

Achieved when Calorie intake is larger than calorie expenditure and when results in fat gain.

Important for those who don’t want to gain fat and those that are trying to gain weight.

Any means of creating a calorie surplus will result in weight gain and fat gain. Whether weight gained is mostly fat or muscle will be influenced by the size of the surplus and other factors such as exercise or macronutrient composition of the diet.

The larger the surplus, the more fat you will gain.

When you consume more energy than your body needs it stores energy for use later. This energy is stored as fat or glycogen. Fats are stored as triglycerides in adipose tissue which is made up of adipocytes (fat cells).

Adipose tissue can store large amounts of energy as fat. A non-overweight person weighing 70kg and only 10% body fat would have 7kg or 7,000g of body fat.  There are 9 calories for each gram of fat so 7,000g x 9cal = 63,000 calories of energy stored as fat.

If energy intake is larger than energy expenditure and body weight increases, BMR and total daily energy expenditure will also increase due to the greater energy requirement of maintaining and moving a larger body. 

The body will put in place some strategies to reduce fat gain. For example, you may unknowingly increase your activity level in an attempt to expend more energy so as not to gain more weight. Eventually, energy balance may be achieved at a higher body weight.

Understanding energy balance, its dynamic nature and its components is crucial if you want to manage and take control of your weight.


Dynamic Energy Balance: An Integrated Framework for Discussing Diet and Physical Activity in Obesity Prevention—Is it More than Eating Less and Exercising More?