The Body Bank – How will you spend your calories?


The challenge of balance.

We went over our math problem a few posts ago: Calories In – Calories Out = Energy Balance

Sounds a little like a bank right? We put money in, we withdraw money to complete tasks. Except our bank acts funny. Having a surplus in our body “savings account” results in a lot of fees in the form of heath problems. So our goal is to maintain a balanced budget. If we want to get rid of some of those weight-related health problems, we need to pay back our debts, and spend more than we consume. We know how we take calories in, right? Food! But where does that energy go? What is it used for? How do we increase our “calories out” to help us lose weight? To answer the question, we turn to a number called the Daily Energy Expenditure, or DEE. There are four primary components to the DEE: Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Thermal Effect of Food (TEF), Exercise Activity (EA), and non-exercise activity, also known as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT. Notice that I mentioned “thermal” and “thermogenesis” in there? I’ll go over that in a minute. Each of these components are specific to each individual. We have fast and slow metabolisms, we eat different foods, and move different amounts during the day. Everything that we do during a day contributes to our DEE. Let’s break it down.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Your basal metabolic rate is the rate that your body burns calories just to survive. It’s the energy that your body uses to breathe, make your heart beat, keep your muscles relaxed, keep your cells alive, grow. These are calories that you burn for doing absolutely nothing. And that’s not even sleeping-nothing. Your metabolic rate sleeping is greater than just the BMR. The closest you can get to the baseline metabolic rate  is sitting plopped in front of a TV (yes, really). So free calories! Awesome! How can I get more free calories? Your BMR depends on a few different things.

1.Firstly, your body mass-  The bigger you are, the more energy you tend to use. The bonus? The more lean body mass you have, the more energy you need to use just to keep it alive. So, build more muscle, burn more calories at rest.

2. Temperature Maintenance –  Stay in a cold environment. drink cold water. Your body expends energy just to maintain your internal body temperature, so the more your body needs to work, the more you burn.

3. Hormonal Balance – This one you can’t change much. Your body has a rate that it just likes to burn calories, which is regulated by hormones. Your brain tells your body to release certain hormones when the body needs more energy, or when it feels like it’s wasting energy. Your brain works very hard to keep that rate fairly constant. However, there are a few ways to force your body to produce energy-burning hormones. The first is exercise! Exercise raises your body’s resting levels of growth hormone and testosterone, both of which are involved with growth, particularly lean tissue growth. Growth, as mentioned earlier, is a strong contributor to basal metabolic rate. Second is nutrition! We will go over the thermic effect of food soon, however, various vitamins, minerals, and other compounds contribute to the efficiency and production of various hormones.

4. Age – Age contributes significantly towards your BMR. Younger bodies are continuously in the process of growth. Once growth stops, BMR decreases. Age also contributes to timing and efficiency of hormones, amount of lean body mass, and efficiency of metabolic interactions.

Thermal Effect of Food (TEF)

Side Note: Thermal, Thermogenesis – These terms refer to your favorite thermodynamics physics equations involving energy, heat, entropy, and all that jazz. All you need to remember is breaking down fuels into more pieces increases entropy, or randomness, in the equation, and also releases heat as a byproduct. That heat and increased entropy plays into our energy balance. That’s why we talk about thermodynamics during these processes, and that’s why “thermal” and “thermogenesis” are involved.

Digesting food uses energy. The amount of energy you use depends on the types of foods that you eat. Simple processed sugars are very easy to break down and absorb because they’re already in their simplest form. Complex foods require much more energy to break down into absorb-able parts. So candy, soda, and even baked goods, breads, and other simple carbs take very little energy to break down. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in fruits and vegetables take much more energy to break down. Some carbs are so complex, such as cellulose and fiber, that we can’t break them down at all, but we expend a great deal of energy trying to digest them anyway– our bodies don’t know any better. That means that there are some foods that actually require more energy to digest than they provide for the body. Imagine that! So how do we increase the TEF? Eat more fruits and veggies. Eat more fiber. Avoid simple carbohydrates.

Exercise Activity (EA)

Exercise is one of the easiest ways to control your calorie expenditure, and it’s one of the easiest ones to measure. Exercise more, use more energy. This one we all know, so I won’t spend too much time on it. The longer you exercise, the more calories you burn. The more muscle mass you have, the more metabolically active tissue it has to actually spend that energy. The more mass you have in general, the more your body needs to works to complete the exercise. The trouble with having a lot of non-lean mass (fat mass) is that your body needs to work harder, but you don’t necessarily have the muscle tissue available to do the activity for extended periods of time. But, as you know, the more you do it, the more muscle you gain, the more fat you lose, the more energy you’re using. On the flip side, the more active you are, the more efficient you become at certain types of exercise. Therefore, you will need to progress or change your workouts every 6 weeks or so in order to burn more calories.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

This is the most important element in the equation because we, as a society, currently do so little of it. I am going to spend the whole next post explaining NEAT, but here’s a little introduction to it. NEAT is everything you do during the day that is not part of scheduled, continuous exercise. Neat is cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, climbing the stairs, playing with your kids, chasing your kids, making those kids (keeping it PG here), getting to work, doing your work, thinking, speaking, chewing, smiling, singing, laughing. All of it contributes to your NEAT. Unfortunately for us, in order to make life more convenient, we invented machines to do all of those things for us. We have escalators and cars. We have riding lawnmowers and robotic vacuum cleaners. We have dishwashers and blenders. And most important of all, we have televisions. We’ve engineered activity out of our lives. I bet most people reading this can say that they’ve had days where they’ve spent less than 30 minutes moving – 2 minutes to the car, a total of 10 minutes around the office, 2 minutes back to the sofa, and that’s it. The kicker? Almost everything I listed above is a low/moderate intensity activity that you maintain for long periods of time, and therefore use fat as a primary fuel source. We could be burning fat! Just by cleaning the house. Just by mowing the lawn. But instead we sit for most of the day. I’m lucky to have a job that requires me to walk laps around the gym, picking up weights just to clean up. But how many of you actually get to move for more than one hour a day? We’re missing out on our biggest controllable energy expenditure because we’re sitting our days away. Tomorrow I’ll give you tips on how to defeat the powerful chair.

So that’s how we spend our calories. Our body spends energy to break down food, to exercise, to complete everyday tasks, and that’s right, just to stay alive. Where do you think you can afford to spend a few more calories? Is your energy budget balanced? Our bodies were designed to “bank” energy just in case we won’t have food tomorrow, but here in the US, when food is around every corner (in excess), we end up banking way too much. Get control of your energy balance, and you’ll have a happier, healthier life. Tips are coming tomorrow. Stay tuned!


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