The Benefit to Being Strategically Inefficient (it’s N.E.A.T)

When you think about it, we construct our days around avoiding discomfort. All kinds – social, mental, physical. That’s just the kind of gratuitous pleasure seekers we are. 

The only breaks from the pattern are for activities we know are ‘good for us’, but not necessarily fun at the time. Exercise is a good one.

For these rare exceptions, we’re willing to make ourselves uncomfortable for the sake of a longer term pleasure (aka increased sexual attractiveness).

Our inherent bias towards convenience costs us big time when it comes to weight management Click To Tweet

But what if there was something that is easier to do than exercise (although equally just as easy not to do), that will compound weight loss and fitness efforts? No specialist clothing or extra showering required.

Enter N.E.A.T – the most powerful weight loss tool you aren’t using.  

WTF is N.E.A.T?

N.E.A.T stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis.

It’s not exercise.

Referred to as the ‘crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain’, non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or working out/playing sport. Think walking to work, typing and gardening. 

Researcher Dr James Levine, who ‘discovered’ NEAT, describes it as ‘all those activities that render us vibrant, unique, and independent beings.’

My main forms of N.E.A.T are standing at my desk when working, walking everywhere, separating out my errands, carrying my groceries, dancing when I can – and just generally minxing around. 

These things increase our metabolic rate significantly.

N.E.A.T science

Here is what we know about key factors in metabolism and weight loss:

  • Your ‘basal metabolic rate’ is the energy required for core body functions (such as sleep). It accounts for about 60% of daily energy expenditure. The bigger a person, the greater his or her basal metabolic rate.
  • The thermic effect of food is the energy expended in response to a meal (different foods have different thermic effects). The thermic effect of food accounts for about 10% of daily energy needs and does not vary a whole lot from person to person. 
  • Exercise activity thermogenesis and nonexercise activity thermogenesis accounts for everything else. This can vary by as much as 2,000 calories per person!

How much difference can N.E.A.T make?

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Do not underestimate the difference that this can make to your weight and fitness levels. N.E.A.T is the slight edge philosophy applied to exercise.

Studies show that lean people fidget for about 150 minutes a day more than obese people do. So you could say it’s a fact that fit people fidget. 

As a person that roughly keeps track of their calorie intake and works out regularly, I can tell you that when I am more active in my non-exercise time over a period of a few months, my weight can be as much as 7 pounds less – despite no changes in my calorie intake or exercise regime. I also have this general feeling of wellbeing that I don’t get from structured exercise alone. 

N.E.A.T has the potential to burn substantially more calories per day than exercise for the average person Click To Tweet

A conservative estimate of your daily calorie burn with N.E.A.T is around 100 – but it could be as high as 700 calories a day.

Cathy Kotz, a research biologist at the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Minneapolis says “on average it’s about 300, but if people can get to the point of 700, then that’s quite a bit.” 

Low grade activity like tapping your feet and fingers can burn around 350 calories per day Click To Tweet

‘But I go to the gym’

Should you do N.E.A.T in addition to your structured exercise? Absolutely. As explained above, it can make a huge difference to fitness and weight loss. 

No amount of crossfit offsets the harm that sitting does.

20 ways to get N.E.A.T

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Here are some ideas for incorporating N.E.A.T.

Many of them will make you a bit of a pain in the arse to be around. But as we all need to be more tolerant anyway, you’ll be doing your friends, family and colleagues a favor.

  1. Stand or pace while talking on the phone.
  2. Fidget whilst sitting. Tap your leg, swivel in your chair.
  3. Get up (at least) hourly and get a refill of water or standing up to stretch.
  4. When watching TV, during every commercial break get up and move.
  5. Buy a pedometer (this just makes you more aware of how much you move).
  6. Carry your groceries and your suitcases. 
  7. Dance whilst you clean.
  8. Clean. And dance.
  9. When sitting, sit on a stability ball.
  10. Take the stairs.
  11. Park as far as you can from your destination and walk.
  12. Use your lunch break for walking.
  13. Spend at least 30 minutes immediately following dinner to be on your feet and moving around. Clean up; take the trash out.
  14. Implement walking meetings at work.
  15. Get standing desks.
  16. Have kids. Play with them.
  17. Buy a dog and walk it.
  18. Buy a rebounder and have a mid-morning bounce (great for the lymphatic system).
  19. Get a stationary foot pedal for under your desk.
  20. Constantly sip water. This has the double whammy of ensuring you are hydrated and requiring regular visits to the bathroom.


The N.E.A.T message is an important one, because most of us don’t consider anything short of a vomit-inducing H.I.I.T class as making a substantial contribution to staying in shape. Plus, when we do workout, we are more inclined to rest on our laurels. 

Instead of looking for ways to reduce your movement in the day, go out of your way to be inefficient with things. Walk, don’t take the car; separate your errands up; just be on your feet as much as possible.

The best part is how habit-forming regular movement can become. N.E.A.T just sort of happens. Or as Levine says, “NEAT begets more NEAT. We see this all the time, and the data substantiates it. Your brain adapts to your new state of NEAT and is therefore primed to do more and more.”

It cuts both ways though, remember. 

How do you get N.E.A.T? Get in touch!