If you work in an office building sitting in front of a monitor all day, it can be tough to get any activity. It may not seem important, because it doesn’t seem like what little activity you might work into the day could really matter. It turns out that it can.

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NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s also called NEPA, for non-exercise physical activity. NEAT explains one aspect of metabolism that drives a lot of people crazy. How can some people eat a bunch and not gain fat? A study back in 1999 looked at this question. In the study, participants overate by 1,000 calories per day for eight weeks. The researchers looked at who gained what. It won’t surprise many readers that women tended to gain more than men. No one was allowed to exercise, but some people gained 16 pounds (7.2 kg, high gainers) and others gained only a tenth as much (low gainers).

The difference between the low gainers and the high gainers was that the low gainers could simply not tolerate sitting still! Some paced, some walked, some fidgeted. They dissipated the excess energy they were consuming through increased movement while awake. Ordinarily, we don’t think of this kind of activity as a big opportunity for calorie burning, but when it’s kept up hour after hour, it adds up.

If you’re trying to lose weight, NEAT may help, but you have to let go of all the lessons you learned growing up about sitting still. Find some activity that you can maintain, even if it’s just wiggling your toes inside your shoes. There’s more about NEAT and other tools for fat loss in my new book, AC: The Power of Appetite Correction.