Just about five months ago, I left my job as a case manager to pursue my passion for fitness full time. I couldn't be happier with this decision, but there have been some interesting and unexpected "side effects" of doing so. For one, I discovered that I do, in fact, actually miss dressing up (sometimes). Secondly, I am probably working harder now than I ever was before (but I enjoy it so much that it never feels like work), and lastly, and most unexpectedly, I lost approximately ten pounds, even though my daily food consumption skyrocketed compared to how I used to eat. At first, this scared me. I did not intend, nor did I want, to lose ANY weight, let alone ten pounds. I understand that that is probably an annoying thing to read as many people wish to lose 5-10 pounds, and work hard at doing so (and I too have been in that boat before), but this is my truth and my reality: the weight loss legitimately scared me, as dropping that much weight not only meant that I was clinically underweight, but I also felt energetically-drained, which I am not used to. I didn't understand how I could have lost weight despite eating as though I was in constant marathon-training mode. I truly thought there was something really wrong with me, and so I did the worst possible thing one can do when one is a slight hypochondriac: I consulted WebMD.
Well, we all know how that turned out. Convinced I had cancer or hyperthyroidism or rheumatoid arthritis, I frantically scheduled a check-up with my doctor for blood work and a thorough physical. Though I did discover I had become mildly anemic (likely due to a combination of factors-- a lack of iron in my diet, working out a lot, and simply being a woman), the rest of my tests came out just fine. I was still bothered though, because like many women (and in increasing numbers, men), I do have an eating disordered history. I am very open about my recovery from alcoholism, but I talk much less about my ED battles because: A) The two disorders (ED & Alcoholism) very often go hand-in-hand (particularly in women) and I think of them as being derivative of the same place; so I tend to think of them as the same disorder, just with different symptoms, and, B) I've been in recovery from my ED for well over a decade now and truthfully think very little about that particular set of symptoms. The reason the weight loss bothered me so much was because I take pride in being a HEALTHY and STRONG woman; not a skinny sickly one, and with the weight loss & the accompanied loss of energy, I felt unhealthy. I felt weak. I felt like something was truly wrong.
Through fitness and recovery, I've learned to love and appreciate my strong body and healthy mind, and I work hard at maintaining both through proper nourishment-- whether that nourishment comes in the form of avocados or meditation. And as a student of psychology with a constant need-to-know, I was desperate to get to the bottom of this mysterious weight loss. And so, I started to reach out to fellow trainers and mentors who I figured may have some insight into my dilemma. And here's another truth that's uncomfortable to write about, especially as a woman with an eating-disordered history: most people really don't want to hear about your "problems with gaining weight." That feeling is so tangible, it almost makes me roll my own eyes at me, and so I was very uncomfortable speaking about "my problem" and chose my audience carefully. I was relieved to discover, however, many fellow trainers, both male & female, have experienced this exact same thing. A good friend of mine recounted her stories of becoming "severe-looking" when she was teaching a lot of fitness classes, despite eating a lot of burgers & fries during that time period. Another female trainer openly and proudly boasted, "Oh yeah- I eat whatever I want; steak and eggs, pasta, whatever-- I eat ALL the food." And I heard similar tales from the male fitness pros I talked to as well. One suggested I try eating a lot of cookies and then immediately put myself to bed. Though that gave me a laugh, and sometimes does sound appealing, I know from experience that that will NOT help my energy levels.
So, what's the deal?, you're wondering. The deal is this: since I switched from a job that was primarily desk-based to one that involves virtually no sitting, and a whole lot of exercise demonstrating, weight-plate-changing, and general activeness, all of that extra activity burns a lot more calories than I realized, and the more clients I have, the more classes I teach, and the more I travel from gym-to-gym, the more energy I expend. Even though I am not doing full-on workouts with any of my clients, nor taking part in the classes I teach, I am still expending a tremendous amount of calories. There is a nifty little concept packaged in a nice succinct acronym that explains this phenomena: N.E.A.T. is Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This refers to all the calories we burn whilst engaged in non-exercise-related activities-- all of those things we do in our day-to-day life, such as walking, climbing stairs, cleaning, cooking, doing yard work, showering, or even fidgeting. And those babies can add up FAST. Just imagine if, rather than sitting for eight hours a day at your desk, you stood for even half that time. Or imagine you went for a leisurely ten minute walk for every hour you worked; the average person would burn approximately 640 additional calories a day just by walking ten minutes out of each hour. These are additional calories on top of the ones our bodies use to perform routine tasks such as digestion and temperature regulation.
I don't know how many N.E.A.T. calories I burn each day, but for my part, I am trying to replace them by eating significantly more calories than before, and I'm also making sure to take at least one total rest day per week. I want to be strong and healthy- able to lift heavy things, and have boundless energy so as to keep up with this strange and beautiful journey known as life.
So, whether your goal is to gain or lose weight, take a look at your overall activity level. Do you sit for long periods of time? Or are you constantly on the go, finding it hard to find the time to break for a proper lunch? Are you having trouble losing that last five pounds? Or, are your energy levels low because you're not getting enough fuel to keep you going? Examine your lifestyle and think about how N.E.A.T. factors into it. Your health and wellness goals may be more attainable than you think by simply adjusting your N.E.A.T.