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Magic Underpants and Weight Loss

Posted Feb 14 2013 2:26pm
Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic (and inventor of the original treadmill desk) wanted to find out why some self proclaimed couch potatoes are fat and others skinny even though they eat the same amount of food.  So he decided to construct a study where he nicely asked all the participants to wear black skin tight magic underpants.  To be honest, they are not really magic.  In fact, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but magic doesn't really exist. Sorry. However all the participants donned this special undergarment which every half second (24/7) monitored all posture changes and movement they made with little accelerometers and inclinometers imbedded in the fabric.  It was impossible to scratch your ear or move your toes without this underwear picking up the movement. Dr. Levine was attempting to measure the volunteer's NEAT:  Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis - the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or exercise.

Examples of NEAT activities
  • Toe tapping
  • Cooking
  • Playing guitar or mandolin
  • Petting your pet
  • Standing
  • Pacing
  • Gardening
  • Fidgeting
  • Playing board games
  • Chewing gum 
  • Sex
Unlike most obesity research which relies on self-reporting (a person's flawed recollections, sometimes weeks after the fact, of how much they ate or exercised put down in a journal), the participants in this well constructed study consumed all of their food in the lab for eight weeks and were told not to exercise - no self reporting, lying or remembering incorrectly skewing the results.
"With nary a snack nor workout left to chance, Dr. Levine was able to plumb the mysteries of a closed metabolic universe in which every calorie, consumed as food or expended for energy, could be accounted for". -NY Times
The self proclaimed couch potatoes were all overfed by 1000 extra calories per day for eight weeks.  At the end of the study most gained weight anywhere from .75lbs to over 9lbs a 10 fold difference despite the same calorie intake.  The people who gained the most participated in NEAT the least.  Researchers note there is a correlation between extra calorie intake and increased NEAT but it varies widely in the population.  It appears that skinny people may have a better predisposition for NEAT when eating like gluttons and hence preventing weight gain. Whereas, many obese people have NEAT systems that may be genetically/hormonally subdued and don't go into overdrive when they increase their food intake. All hope is not lost because you can voluntarily increase your NEAT by incorporating new habits into your lifestyle. 

Our technologically advanced chair born society cuts our NEAT time down to barely nil.  The washing machine, dishwasher, elevator, horseless carriages, and worst of all TV have contributed to the fattening of our population as much as the proliferation of junk food and sodas.  As labor saving devices increase so does obesity levels. NEAT can vary between two same sized individuals by up to 2000 calories per day depending on their occupation and leisure time activities.  A person can burn up to an extra 750 calories per day by moving more and incorporating NEAT into their daily routine.  For example just standing up burns triple the calories of sitting.  Sitting wreaks havoc on the body.

NEAT Ideas
  1. Every time you get up from a chair do it 2 or 3 times...your co-workers might think you are afflicted with OCD but those extra squats will burn calories.  
  2. When you watch TV during every commercial get up a do a quick chore or better yet do chores while you are watching i.e. fold clothing, knit, basket weave, polish your shoes etc.
  3. Sit on a stability ball instead of your office chair - the instability of the ball will ensure you keep moving while you are seated.
  4. Get a standing or treadmill workstation and burn a ton of calories during the day.
  5. Go for walk with your friends and family as often as possible. 
  6. Don't sit during your train commute...you will feel less tired and burn more energy by standing.
  7. Take the stairs!  If you must take the escalator, the least you can do, is walk up.  
  8. After you eat dinner don't move right to the living room chair...do some chores or walk around for at least 30 minutes. 
  9. Tap your toes and fidget while seated.    
  10. Cook your own food...which doesn't mean unwrap then nuke.  Cooking includes chopping, slicing, sauteing, boiling, mixing etc.  

Other forms of magic underwear
Mormon Magic Underpants
A term used to describe the "temple garment" many parishioners of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) wear while attending certain ceremonies.  It's rumored to protect its' wearer against temptation and evil. 

David Copperfield Magic Underwear Trick
A pretty good stunt but not really magic.  It's worth the 7 minute running time if you like David's brand of magic.





Sources
1.  Interindividual Variation in Posture Allocation: Possible Role in Human Obesity
2. The NY Times: Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?
3. NEAT Liberating the Life Force
4. ACSM conference - Inactivity Physiology and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis D- Marc T. Hamilton, University of Missouri (NEAT): Clinical and Molecular Insights
James A. Levine, Mayo Clinic Theodore W. Zderic, University of Missouri - Columbia
Catherine Kotz, Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 2006
Doug Joachim - NYC www.JoachimsTraining.com
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