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How we Burn Calories & Understanding Metabolism: How Undereating Hinders Results

The amount of Calories we burn in a day if know as TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure.)There are 5 things that make up your TDEE (see below) and as much as we think exercise has to do with that you would be surprised at where it sits in the process. Now don’t get me wrong exercise and why lifting weights is super important especially with muscle mass, body fat and how much more efficient our body is at the 5 components but this is where most of us are misinformed…Which leads me to why LIFTING heavier weights (I am talking to you ladies) is really important and should be a main priority!

Fast metabolism, slow metabolism, broken metabolism, increased metabolism. These are all buzz phrases in the fitness and nutrition industry. But what is your metabolism, why does it change so much from person to person and how does the amount you eat impact how many calories you burn each day? It is because it is ADAPTIVE….

Your metabolism is the combination of all the processes going on in your body all the time. The foods you eat (and therefore, the calories you consume) are going to fuel the buildup and breakdown of nutrients in your body that are necessary for optimal health. Ultimately, your body needs adequate energy intake to stay active, support day-to-day activity, maintain (or grow!) muscle and keep you from experiencing fat gain or weight plateaus.

There are five main components that make up your metabolism and each can be affected if you don’t get enough calories through your day.

1. Basal metabolic rate (BMR): This includes the very minimum energy needed to keep vital bodily functions fueled. Think heartbeat and breathing! This accounts for about 70% of the total energy you expend each day. Wow I know crazy right…

2. Resting metabolic rate (RMR): This is pretty similar to your BMR in that it is still measuring minimal functioning in your body. RMR extends to respiration, circulation, synthesis of organic compounds (like building muscle!) and basic cellular functioning. There is usually about a 10% difference between your BMR and your RMR.

How undereating affects BMR and RMR — BMR and RMR are affected by age, body composition, body size, climate, gender and hormone status. People with more lean body mass (aka more muscle!) have an RMR that is about 5% higher than non-athletic individuals. If you’re not eating enough to support healthy muscles, your RMR will be lower and you will burn fewer calories at rest. Undereating can also cause hormone imbalances, which can cause water retention and unwanted fat storage.

3. Thermic effect of food (TEF): This is the energy expended in the digestion, breakdown, and absorption of the foods you eat.

How undereating affects TEF — Eating food takes energy. Chewing, swallowing, digesting, creating the enzymes that break down your food — these things all burn calories- yeah. Protein especially has a high thermic effect, which means it takes your body extra energy to digest, process and store protein. Fat has the lowest thermic effect out of the three macronutrients Protein/ Fat/Carbs. When we underheat, we are decreasing this overall calorie output. This is also why eating sufficient protein is so important.

5. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): This is the most variable part of energy expenditure from person to person. It includes all energy expended for the activities you do that aren’t eating, sleeping, breathing or purposeful exercise. NEAT includes things like walking your dog, doing yard work, laundry, standing instead of sitting at work, fidgeting, walking around the grocery store, cooking, etc. In extreme cases. people’s NEATs can differ by 2,000 calories a day!
How undereating affects NEAT — When you are under-fueled, your body will automatically start down-regulating your NEAT to conserve as much energy as possible. This means you will naturally stop moving around, you’ll opt for the closest parking spot, you’ll avoid taking your dog for a walk or going outside to play with your kids, you’ll sit instead of stand at your desk, or rake the elevator instead of the stairs, etc. Our body is an amazing thing and it smart this is called Metabolic adaptation- it adapts to the stresses or non stresses we do or dont do…This is for another day but you need to understand a little of

If you want to make some drastic changes in fat loss without feeling like you need to live in the gym, focus on your NEAT. Here are some quick ideas to help you increase your NEAT:

MOVE MORE…I know sounds easy right…

  • Clean Up a Bit more… You’d probably have to do at least a little more cleaning than usual. And household chores, especially vacuuming, mopping, and ironing, increase your NEAT significantly.
  • Dance in the car at your desk in the shower…
  • Fidget more, stand while your talking on the phone,
  • Make it measurable. Wear a watch and set a movement or step goal.
  • No more princess parking — pick a spot farther away from the door.
  • Put yourself on a clock, set a timer and make sure you get up every 20-30 minutes to walk, stretch or knock out some air squats butt kicks stretches etc.
  • Stand — at work, in the coffee shop, while you’re chatting at a get-together — any chance you get! If you’re stuck at a desk all day, figure out ways to stretch/ move/ stand.
  • Take the stairs or the long way to your office instead of jumping on the elevator.4. Exercise activity (EAT): I bet you can guess what this includes! Your exercise activity includes intentional exercise like working out, lifting weights, barre, going for a run- you get the idea. EAT can vary drastically from one person to another, accounting for anywhere between 4% (or less) to 30% (or more) of total daily energy expenditure.

How undereating affects EAT — Have you ever had a day in the gym when your energy was through the roof and you felt like you could go forever? Have you ever had a day when you were dragging and headed home feeling like you didn’t accomplish much because you didn’t have enough energy? Getting adequate calories allows you to push hard in the gym, build and maintain muscle and get stronger. Sufficient nutrients also support quick recovery so you can hit it hard again tomorrow!

We get it — the idea of “eating more to lose weight” can seem a bit counterintuitive and it definitely takes a bit of experimentation to get to know what nutrient levels support your body composition and performance goals.


  • NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
  • Moving more throughout your daily routine increases your NEAT.
  • Many small movements make a big difference in total.
  • The percentage of calories per day burned through NEAT is different for everyone, but on average it’s between 15% and 30%.
  • The higher your NEAT, the higher your total calorie needs.

If you want to know what your TDEE is and how to adapt your calories for weight loss set up an appointment with me.