Declaring a War on The Dad Bod

Being a new dad I’m involved in many different parenting and dads groups on Facebook. And over the last weekend I bumped into a disturbing meme – it had a fat guy in the background and the text read something along the lines of “dad bod – proof that you spend more time with your kids than you care about how you look.” (Read This: 11 Ways to Be a Better Dad)

For the uninformed – Total Frat Move defined the term back in 2014 as, “That gray zone in between fit and fat” and NYMag describes this as a “A physique characterized by undefined muscles beneath a light layer of flab, usually topped off with a beer belly”.

So, we should celebrate our beer bellies because this makes us better dads?

What the hell?

I understand that “dad bod” is this body-positive phenomenon that embraces our imperfection. And I have no beef with that part – today’s media has screwed up our body images (women’s and men’s alike). But to imply that dads who are fit and in shape don’t care about their kids… that’s disturbing.

For one, having a beer belly doesn’t make anyone a better dad. Being out of shape is more than likely a result of drinking too much beer and eating too much pizza while watching ESPN.

I only have a 14 month old, but chasing her, roughhousing with her and being an involved dad has not made me any fatter (I gained my fat before that). So, if anything I would argue that having a dad bod is a proof that you value sitting on your couch more than spending time and playing with your kids.

Secondly, it just sounds like an excuse, not to exercise. It’s an easy way out of putting in the work to stay healthy and fit.

I understand as well as anybody else that becoming a dad is a big life change for guys. You have less time, it changes your priorities and often times (at least short term) raises the stress and anxiety levels.

I became a dad a little more than a year ago and by the time I welcomed our baby-girl to this world I had gained almost 20 extra pounds. This was more than my wife had put on during her pregnancy and she lost most of that weight in the delivery room. At the same time I packed on additional 5-10 pounds during first 9 months with the baby.

And this is very uncharacteristic of me to gain that much weight. Although I’ve never been very big and muscular, I’ve been in fairly good shape for most of my life. I was a runner when I was younger – in middle-school and in high-school and after that I became a gym-rat to stay in shape. About a year before becoming a dad my body fat percentage was 10-11% and I could see my abs. And now, I have love handles, but I’m far from being proud of it.

The third reason why that meme pushed me to write this piece was the fact that being out of shape actually hurts our progenies more than we may admit to ourselves.

Obesity often times runs in families and surprisingly it’s the fathers not the mothers that have more profound impact on kids’ physical fitness and their activity level.

According to one study, dads’ body fat percentage is the best indicator of his daughter’s. Another study didn’t find any correlation between dad’s and daughter’s BMI (Body Mass Index), but showed that the risk for a boy being obese at age eight was increased six-fold if his father was obese.

Whether these studies are 100% accurate or not, doesn’t really matter. It’s very hard to claim that dad’s obesity would have a positive effect on the kids’ health.

So, if you want your kids to be healthy and active, best way to do it is to stay healthy, active and fit yourself – to be an example!

Why do dads gain sympathy weight?

Many men experience pregnancy-related symptoms when cheering for their pregnant partner. It’s called couvade syndrome (aka sympathetic pregnancy). Weight gain is just one of the many symptoms that soon-to-be dads may experience.

According to a British study by OnePoll that surveyed 5000 dads, an average soon-to-be father gains about 14 pounds during his spouse’s pregnancy.

It’s also quite common that the weight gain doesn’t stop after the birth of the progeny. Another study by Duke University that involved 4,500 middle aged couples found that the more kids a couple has, the greater dad’s risk of becoming obese. With each child a man’s risk of obesity increased 4 percent (compared to woman’s risk +7 percent).

Why is that?

Although the researchers have yet to come out with concrete reasons for these changes, one possible factor in this weight gain is the fact that dads also experience some hormonal changes during the partner’s pregnancy. For example they experience a drop in testosterone levels during and after the pregnancy.

The Duke University study concluded, however, that the most likely culprit is still the lifestyle change. Basically, with the new responsibilities that come with becoming a dad, family becomes the priority and dads have less time to take care of themselves the way they once did in terms of exercise.

This is close to what I experienced as well. Throughout my wife’s pregnancy I pampered her and took care of her. I also used that as an excuse not to take care of myself and picked up a bad habit or two. I binged on sympathy take-out and sympathy ice-cream with her – often times on the same day.

I also stopped working out to stay home and spend time with my family. I wasn’t really proud to be “above average” with my weight gain, but I didn’t think much of it, since I’ve always been fit. I conveniently ignored the extra pounds thinking that it’s temporary.

My journey back to a healthier lifestyle

It was around 10 months into parenthood when I “all of a sudden” noticed my love handles. I was disgusted. I think my laziness and lack of motivation to take action these past 1½ years was more disappointing than the “spare tire” itself. And finally I was pushed to make some changes in my life.

I wanted to lose the extra pounds and be fit again and I started working out quite intensively for 4-5 times a week. I was surprised to discover how difficult it was to start lifting weights once again. I hadn’t trained consistently for 1½ years.

I was prepared for my body to not to be ready for weight training. However, it was my mind that resisted the change more than my body – I had no habits when it came to working out and some days it took a lot of mental power to get myself in the gym.

I managed to train at that pace 2-3 weeks before I quit. I was just looking for excuses and I had become pretty good at it. I skipped one day, then another and I lost my momentum.

About a month or two passed and I decided to have another try, but this time I chose a little different approach. I had learned from my previous experience and adapted. This time, I focused on getting into habit of working out before focusing on the training itself.

I didn’t set any results’ goals for myself. Instead, I aimed to work out minimum 3 times a week. That’s it! I didn’t stress much about how hard I was pushing myself in the gym and I didn’t fret about the weights nor the reps. It was more important for me to get back in the habit of working out – this time I was playing the long game.

I’m only 6 weeks in and I’ve only missed my goal once, which is pretty good progress comparing to the previous attempt. I haven’t got to the point just yet that I don’t have to think about packing my gym-bag in the morning – it’s still a grind. And I’m fine with it.

As soon as working out becomes my second nature, I will start focusing on my training plan. Until then it’s just light workout 3 times a week and I’ve found this approach lot easier to sustain, and I’ve lost almost 10 pounds during these 6 weeks.

Changes in priorities

One thing I’ve noticed is how much my fitness goals have changed after becoming a dad. When I was younger, I was more interested in having a nice physique to show off on the beach or by the pool.

However, being a fairly new dad now, I’m more interested in just being healthy and fit and having the ability to move around. First, to set a good example for my daughter; and second, to feel healthy and to have the stamina to play and chase our little ankle-biter. She will only become quicker and have more energy as years go by – I’ll better be prepared! And finally, although I realize I can’t completely control that, I want to make sure I do my part in order to be there for her and for the rest of my family for years and decades to come.

These are my main fitness goals and reasons I don’t want to skip a day in the gym.

Don’t celebrate your dad bod

I have no beef with guys having a dad bod and I’m not urging every dad to chase the unrealistic body ideals from the covers of fitness magazines.

I’m not into that myself either.

However, I don’t find dad bod should be celebrated. It doesn’t make anyone a better dad. If anything, it shows that you don’t prioritize your health and you either are not aware of the impact it has on your kids or you just don’t care enough.

Your beer belly is nothing to be ashamed of either. It’s just the result of your choices so far. You can start making new choices and regardless of the circumstances show your kids how important it is to stay healthy.

Go set them a healthy example with your actions!

About The Author

Tanel is a husband to his high school girlfriend and a proud dad.

He’s also passionate about becoming a better dad and a husband day-by-day. His mission is to help other soon-to-be and new dads transition to fatherhood and navigate the pressures they face in modern world.

If you’re just entering parenthood, check out Tanel’s blog and his Brand New Father Podcast to get more insights.

You can also connect with him on Facebook or on Twitter.