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Why Some People Can Eat A Lot and Stay Thin

Fitday Editor

We all have that one friend who seems to defy all laws of calories and weight gain. You know, the one who can put down jumbo-size fries, jelly-filled donuts and staggering portions of spaghetti and never seem to gain an ounce. Is it just luck, or does this person have a weight-maintenance secret that we can all learn from? The latter is most likely, and adopting the tactics of the thin-yet-well-fed crowd can help the rest of us keep (or restore) our trim waistlines.

Eat A Lot and Stay Thin? Sounds NEAT!

Health experts are beginning to explore the idea that people who eat all they want and don't gain weight are actually more active than the rest of the population, and therefore burn more calories. However, these folks don't necessarily spend more time at the gym. They probably engage in a practice known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

NEAT may sound like a lofty concept, but it's actually quite simple: all physical activity--aside from regimented workouts--counts. When you stand up and pace while talking on the phone, chop cabbage for dinner or even twiddle your thumbs sitting at your desk, you are engaging in NEAT. So that friend who can pig out without consequence probably fidgets more than you do and stands on her feet while you're sitting down.

According to ACE, engaging in NEAT throughout the day can increase your metabolism by up to 50 percent--so if you normally burn 2,000 calories per day while sedentary, NEAT can help you burn up to 3,000 calories per day. That translates to a lot of pasta, and definitely entitles you to dessert.

How to Be NEAT

If NEAT doesn't come naturally to you, you may be able to train yourself by consciously including more small movements into your day. Wiggle your legs or tap your fingers at your work desk, rock back and forth on your heels while waiting in line at the post office, and choose standing over sitting whenever possible. You may also burn more calories by purchasing a pedometer and setting goals for yourself, such as 12,000 steps a day.

Lean Muscle Tissue is Also a Factor

Aside from NEAT, people with fast metabolisms may have one other trick up their sleeve: a high percentage of lean muscle tissue. Muscle takes more calories to maintain than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn--even as you sleep. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that you can increase your metabolism by up to 15 percent by building more muscle.

Increasing muscle mass takes time (months, rather than seconds as with NEAT), but the payoff is worth it. Not only will weight control become easier, but you'll also be able to perform everyday activities more capably, and may even help curb arthritis, osteoporosis and back pain. To build more muscle, lift weights, take a vigorous yoga class or simply perform calisthenic exercises like push-ups, squats and sit-ups two to three times per week, working all major muscle groups.



Nina Kate is a certified fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). She also studied journalism at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and has contributed to numerous major publications as a freelance writer. Nina thrives on sharing nutrition and fitness knowledge to help readers lead healthy, active lives. Visit her wellness blog at

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