Why is weight loss so difficult?
The rules behind weight loss and more specifically, fat loss, are not overly complicated but there must be a reason behind the growing numbers of overweight people around the world.
And, a little closer to home, why you keep asking yourself (and me) "why am I not losing weight?"
Most of us know that to lose weight, chances are you need to eat a little less, right?
But, is it that simple?
Have you ever tried to tell someone that they need to reduce their calorie intake or attempted to do it yourself?
The majority of us know that reducing the number of calories you eat in a day is not easy.
And, just because people struggle, doesn't mean they're lazy or not bothered about taking action.
On paper, weight loss is simple.
In reality, mental and sometimes physical barriers make it much harder than it needs to be.
It might not sound fair but that doesn't mean you should give up.
Unfortunately, it does mean that the majority of people do give up, or spend their life going round in circles, the lifetime yo-yo dieter.
When actually, investing in the time to find out 'why' you're not losing weight, could make the process a whole lot easier.
Whereas most people throw their hands up in exasperation and say "why can't I lose weight no matter what I do?" and give up.
Ok, so we know that calories play a huge role in weight loss.
There's also another factor that isn't eating-related that can be overlooked but also plays a massive role.
How many times have you heard or said: "burn calories"?
And when you hear "burn calories", what do you think about?
Cardio, killer workouts, lifting weights, endless burpees and situps?
When in fact, from an exercise and burning calories perspective, fat loss isn't all about soul-destroying, brutal workouts.
There are easier approaches that are usually forgotten because they're not sexy enough.
A quick recap: How you burn calories
Calories are energy.
Your body uses calories for everything it has to do.
From intense exercise like running and weight training to everyday tasks like standing and tying your shoes and activities like gardening and walking... they all burn calories.
The total number of calories that you burn every day happens in three ways:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): Quite simply, this is the number of calories your body uses to stay alive. You could stay in bed all day and your body would still burn this amount to maintain your BMR. Around 60% of all the calories we eat goes towards maintaining this understandably vital process.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): This is the amount of energy our bodies use to digest, absorb and store the food we consume. It varies from person to person, and from food to food - protein is the most energy-expensive food. TEF accounts for around 10% - 15% of our daily calorie burn.
Activity Thermogenesis (AT): There are two elements to AT: exercise - including gym sessions, bike rides, running etc.; and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which includes walking, gardening, fidgeting, standing etc.
And, we all know by now that to lose weight, we must be in a calorie deficit.
If your idea of burning calories is two or three moderate to intense sessions in the gym a week, and then not doing much of anything else, you're missing out on a huge amount of calorie-burning potential.
And it's not just me saying this, researchers have studied 'NEAT' and conclude it is a 'tank of physical activity that is crucial for weight control'.
Consider that a crushing 30-minute workout can burn a few hundred calories - but so can a leisurely one-hour walk around your local park,
I'm not saying that there isn't a place for intense exercise but think of it this way:
“There are 168 hours in the week,” says Harley Pasternak, a celebrity trainer who’s worked with everyone from Lady Gaga to LL Cool J. “If you work out for an hour a day, five days a week, there are still 163 hours—or 97% of the week—that you’re not in the gym.”
I want you to know that there are more efficient and less scary ways of losing weight
Just because you're not out of breath and dripping with sweat doesn't mean that your activity doesn't count.
The opposite counts.
All of your activity, no matter how 'light' or 'easy' adds up and counts over the day.
This is why I band the drum about everyone doing a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.
It's the simplest, most accessible form of exercise but often the most neglected.
10,000 steps are roughly 5 miles.
Generally speaking, doing 10k steps a day means that you're exercising for at least one hour.
And depending on several individual factors, one hour of walking at an average pace of 3.0mph can burn up to 476 calories!
This study from 2005 recruited a group of 20 people. half were obese and the other half were lean.
It found that the obese group sat for 164 minutes longer each day than the slimmer group members.
And the slimmer group stood for 152 minutes longer than the obese group.
They concluded that if those in the obese group did nothing else except matched the lean group in time stood or strolling, they would burn an additional 352 calories a day.
That's 352 calories just by standing or strolling - no intense exercise at all.
Your daily habits will either work for you or against you.
How to combine NEAT and intense exercise
Something worth considering is that whilst NEAT 100% works towards your weight loss goal, intense exercise can have the opposite effect.
People often Google: "What's the best exercise for beginners to lose weight?" or "What's the best exercise to lose weight?"
And then, off they go armed with the 'knowledge' that the treadmill or the burpee class is the place to be.
So, you go to the gym, bust your ass and burn 250 calories.
You come home knackered, proud of yourself for getting it done and then 'reward' yourself by taking it easy for the rest of the day.
Congratulations, you've reduced your NEAT by 250 calories and practically undone the calorie-burning benefit of your gym workout.
You must maintain a base level of activity every day, regardless of your gym exploits.
Wear a step-tracker and ensure you always reach your target.
It's also important to note that NEAT isn't going to build you much in the way of muscles, resistance training does that, and it's not going to help you run a marathon, that'll be running.
Walking for weight loss will not turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger or give you arms like Linda Hamilton (80s reference there, Google if you need to).
But, it will help you burn more calories consistently throughout the day.
How to take advantage of NEAT
Pay attention to how much time you spend moving during your day.
Record how much time you spend sitting, standing and moving.
It's crucial that you record at least one weekday and one weekend day to get a balanced picture.
When you've finished recording, have a look at how your day is spent.
In particular, look at the time you spent sitting.
Think of ways you could make those sitting tasks more active.
In his book “Move a Little, Lose a Lot,” Dr Levine recommends 135 minutes of NEAT time during the day.
It sounds a lot but equates to less than 10% of your day. Remember, standing counts towards NEAT too.
Every activity adds up:
Mopping and sweeping the floors burn 156 calories an hour
Light gardening burns 250 calories an hour.
Using a standing desk can burn 98 calories an hour.
Walking the dog around the block burns between 100 and 200 calories.
And, finally taking a 5-minute walk every hour over an eight hour working day, could burn an extra 660 calories per week.
Added up over the year - you could lose about 9 or 10 pounds just by taking those 5-minute walks!
To sum up
No-one's saying that you should skip the gym or miss out on the benefits of exercise and resistance training.
What I am saying is that your weight loss is not just a by-product of cutting calories and busting a gut at the gym.
There are other less strenuous, daily activities you can you introduce, that when added up over a period of time, significantly impact your weight loss goals.
Ben Yates is a personal trainer based at Places Gym Hinckley and Hinckley Leisure Centre in Leicestershire.
To book your free personal training consultation click here