How Do You Burn Calories?



Everything you do burns calories…walking, talking, sitting, exercising, eating, etc. Anything you do (or even don’t do) “costs” energy.


Now… a quick raise of hands for those who say exercise is what accounts for most of your daily calorie expenditure.


Did you raise your hand??


I hate to be the bearer of bad news…but unfortunately if you raised your hand, you couldn’t be more wrong.


I don’t mean to be harsh…but it is the truth!


In fact, exercise accounts for only 5% of your daily caloric expenditure.


That’s why the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” exists. It’s why exercise alone will not get you the results you want.


So now…just where are all the other burned calories coming from?


#1 Your BMR (basal metabolic rate)


That’s right. Just existing at rest burns calories. Your body does a lot just to exist. Your blood needs to flow to all parts of your body. Your brain needs to work. Your heart needs to beat. Your organs need to function. It expends a TON of calories and is why a solid foundation in nutrition is so crucial.


Your BMR accounts for 70% of your daily expenditure. That’s nearly 15x the energy that is burned from exercise. Most BMRs are around 1400-1500 for females and 1700-1800 for males. I know by now I’m beating a dead horse but this is why it’s so important to eat MORE than your BMR (something most are not doing). When you eat less than your BMR, your metabolism has to slow down…meaning it forces your body to burn fewer calories than if you would eat above your BMR.


#2 NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)


This includes all activity that is NOT exercise: walking, talking, typing, driving, and yes, even fidgeting.


NEAT accounts for 15% of your daily caloric expenditure…3x the amount burned from exercise. This is why getting 8,000-10,000 steps/day is just as encouraged as going to the gym for an hour. Yes, exercise is great, but it’s only a small part of the puzzle. You’ll be just as successful if not more successful if you make your day-to-day routine more active rather than simply stay at the gym an extra hour.


#3 TEF (Thermic Effect of Food)


I’m going to tell you something that might blow your mind…


TEF accounts for 10% of your daily expenditure.


Wait…did you read that right?? You bet. Eating food uses double the energy that exercise does.


Eating food, even though it is the processing of giving your body calories, is also an energy-costing activity. Your body relies on energy to break down the food you ingest. This is how celery has what we call “negative calories.” It takes more energy to break it down compared to the calories that comes from a serving of celery.


Additionally, each macronutrient is digested a bit differently. Protein actually takes the most energy to digest due to its complex chemical structure. About 20-30% of calories coming from protein are used


#4 Exercise (EAT – Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)


And NOW we get to exercise…the last on the totem pole…yet what we emphasize and rely on the most. As I mentioned before, exercise accounts for only 5% of your daily expenditure.


How does this make sense?


Think about just time spent per activity. You exist 24/7/365. You’re awake and “moving” and doing NEAT during most of your waking hours, roughly 15-17 hrs/day. You eat at least 3x/day and your body takes at least an hour/meal to digest that food (longer depending on what you’re eating…hint protein). You do all of this every single day. Exercise is often just 1 hour in a day…max 2 hours…plus factor in your rest days. Yes, you could probably exercise 5-7 hours daily and bump up that percentage of daily expenditure coming from exercise…but by that point, stress, fatigue, and inflammation is at an all time high and honestly defeating the purpose.


Now how can you use this to help you lose weight?


Understanding where your calorie expenditure is coming from is the first step. This hopefully lets you realize that exercise isn’t the answer alone.


Losing weight simply comes down to putting yourself in a deficit. You can do this a couple of ways. The most common way is by eating less than what you’re burning.


But what if you’re already not eating enough? What if it’s not working? Food and exercise is only part of the puzzle. There could be such an easier way. What if I told you that you could lose weight without ever having to intentionally go into a “cut” by purposefully removing food from your diet? Sounds pretty great, right?


There are three other categories that burn calories in your body…your BMR, NEAT, and TEF. You can use all of these to your advantage to help you lose weight.


Let’s talk first about your BMR. This is also just your resting metabolism. If you’re not eating above this number, then you are not allowing your metabolism to work to its full potential…meaning you’re actually making it harder on yourself to lose weight because you’re lowering your daily caloric expenditure… this means that if you did want to lose weight (by food alone), you’d have to eat even less. Being in this state also brings in a ton of stress and inflammation, which makes weight loss even more difficult.


Now onto NEAT. You can increase your daily expenditure significantly by just increasing your movement throughout a given day. This is going to let you either increase your intake to match or allow you to lose weight without changing your daily intake. Walk daily. Aim to get at least 7,000 if not 10,000 steps daily. Go on frequent walks. Park further away. Step outside at least 2-3x during work. Use a 5-10 min. walk or bike as a recovery post-workout. This will also do more than just increase your daily expenditure. It will improve your posture. It’ll improve mobility and protect your joints and bones by introducing some movement and blood flow frequently. If you sit at a desk all day, this is going to be key for your health. It’ll even improve back pain!


Lastly, let’s talk about TEF. How could you use this to your benefit? The answer is in your macros. This is why we should consider tracking macros even just for a short amount of time. 20-30% of calories coming from protein are spent simply digesting it. This is compared to 5-10% for carbs and fats. Eating a higher protein diet, at least bodyweight or slightly above will boost your daily expenditure along with your metabolism, allowing you to eat the same amount of food…but still lose weight. Digesting protein expends as much as 5-6x the calories compared to fats and carbs. Additionally, protein takes longer to digest due to its chemical structure, which keeps you full longer. This prevents cravings and binges and allows you to keep a lower intake and lose weight. In fact, during a cut, your protein should be increased 10-15g [at least] to keep hunger manageable and keep you satiated.


The key here is that exercise isn’t the only answer. You should be exercising, but this shouldn’t and can’t be the answer to weight loss. Instead, increasing your daily expenditure, supporting and enhancing your metabolism, eating a higher protein diet, and increasing your daily (non-exercise) activity should be your first priority. It is here that you can make significant strides in weight loss, while staying as healthy as possible. Simply increasing exercise can only take you so far and often too much will lead to injury and stress and in turn will worsen your health. All of the other ways do just the opposite. It supports a healthy body, lowers stress and inflammation, increases longevity, and in turn is way more sustainable for a lifetime.


Now I understand that this is not the easiest approach. This is why I recommend hiring a coach. As a coach, I make sure all of this is in check FIRST. Oftentimes, this is all I need to do to get someone to reach their goal. Every time without fail I get the response “I’ve never felt better” or “I didn’t know I could feel this good” and they’re still losing weight and reaching their goals.


If you’re ready to stop constantly dieting and instead start living and feeling good, strong, and happy, sign up here for a free consultation call. All it takes is 30 minutes to start putting you on the track to success and happiness. What are you waiting for?

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