“Alex, what is YOUR fitness goal?”
You know, in the past I might’ve told you that it was to grow muscle, run a faster mile, get better at parkour, increase my deadlift, jump higher or even to compete on the American Ninja Warrior show.
But all of that changed when my son was born last year.
Don’t get me wrong, I still train like the Zombie Apocalypse is going to begin tomorrow and only a samurai katana and my physical fitness stands between the hordes of undead and everything I hold dear. (Not gonna lie, I dream that at least once a week.)
But my REASON for my training is completely different.
After my little man swooped in and changed everything about my sleep, food, finances, home, marriage, etc… my fitness goal took on a whole new look.
For someone who thinks a bit too much about almost everything, becoming a father myself was an intensely motivating opportunity to evaluate everything in my life through the eyes of small child.
After a year of doing a decent job holding fast the “Why’s” of pre-dad-Alex’s athleticism, even my fitness goals have fallen under the microscope of post-dad-Alex’s quest to be a good father.
What, then is my new fitness goal? What drives me to eat, sleep, breath and train as if a Dragon were going to tear the roof off of my house tomorrow morning before my coffee and challenge me to a fight to the death? (Also not out of the ordinary in my sleeping brain.)
My fitness goal is to overcome a phenomena that plagues nearly every American family man: To stem the tide of an epidemic of complacency, neurobiology and ignorance in the wake of the overwhelming possibility to change the world for the better through our children.
To change the fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a role model, a leader and a man in today’s haplessly confused world.
My fitness goal is to REDEFINE “Dad Bod”.
What IS “Dad Bod”?
“Dad Bod” according to a sophomore at Clemson University is “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. It says I go to the gym occasionally, but I enjoy drinking excessively on the weekends and I eat 8 slices of pizza at a time.”[i][ii]
At least that’s the way a young college woman describes young college men who haven’t really earned the nickname “Dad Bod” the old fashioned way.
As an internet meme, “Dad Bod” exploded as recent as March of 2015. But is it new? Is it real?
Several surveys and studies have been done in the past 20 years that check into the reality of the growing waistlines and decreasing energy levels of dads nationwide.[iii]
And a conclusive sample size was attained by the American Journal of Men’s Health in a recently published study tracking 10,623 father’s weights over a period of several years following the births of their first children.[iv] The AVERAGE father can expect to gain between 5 and 8 pounds, depending on his height, while the average single male can expect to lose about 2 pounds in middle adulthood.
“Dad Bod” is not new, but it is definitely real.
“Thanks Alex” I can hear your sarcasm say, “for confirming things I could’ve googled myself. If it’s already a thing, why are you writing an article to draw attention to it?”
So glad you asked.
Why Does “Dad Bod” Happen?
Dads have kids, get too busy to work out, indulge in too much junk food, drink a beer more often than they should and so they gain some weight. Big deal. That’s called raising a family, right? At least that’s what the researchers said.
Wrong. On every count.
It turns out that googling the meme won’t land you with a non-speculative cause for “Dad Bod”.
First of all let me say that it’s really not any dad’s conscious choice to get “Dad Bod”.
According to a 5-year longitudinal study done in 2011, “Dad Bod” is likely a result of decreasing testosterone and increasing prolactin found in males who “mated successfully” (gotta love biology majors) compared to males who remained single and thus un-engaged in fatherhood.[v]
Lowered testosterone fosters a host of changes in a man that include less muscle and more fat accumulation.
Prolactin has been named the “caretaker” hormone that can also create the physiological environment for fat accumulation as well.[vi]
Well, dang. It seems biology is against INSANELY FIT, energetic and powerful Dads. Gentlemen, it’s engrained in your evolutionary biology to become less-aggressive and more nurture-focused after your kids are born.
(As a side note, college males find a similar hormonal response and thus can get “Dad Bod” too. Instead of it being baby-related, the testosterone drop and prolactin spike are likely due to alcohol consumption.[vii])
But wait, it gets worse. A study published in October, 2015, in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry found evidence that testosterone and serotonin levels are directly correlated, due to testosterone’s tendency to increase Serotonin Reuptake Transporters (SERTs).[viii]
That is to say, when you become a dad, your hormones naturally change in a way that lowers Serotonin.
So amidst the most stressful, sleep-deprived, world-changing time of your life, your hormones are against your healthy body composition AND your brain seems to be against your happiness. Awesome.
As a result, many fathers turn to the easiest solution to “feel good” again since they’re so used to high levels of the neurotransmitter.
Enter junk food.
Ask any new father. One survey found that the presence of unhealthy snacks in the home and eating out increased more than 40% both during and after pregnancy.[ix]
Pizza, chocolate, cookies, candy, energy drinks, muffins, lattes, brownies….you get the picture. All of them boost Serotonin temporarily. All of them cover Dad in fat for much longer.
So Dad makes baby, “success” makes Dad’s testosterone and serotonin go down in a time when he needs them most, and Dad begins the potentially life-long habit of drowning his sorrows the manly way…with a cold beer, pizza, and/or a couple pints of ice cream.
Boom! Biology. Boom! “Dad Bod”.
What’s Wrong With “Dad Bod”
Aside from the facts that the visceral fat is killing us[x], male depression is on the rise[xi], and relationship satisfaction declines sharply with symptoms of depression[xii], “Dad Bod” keeps us from being the best men we can be.
One dad confessed recently that, “I had pictures in my head of doing the fun, active things I love with my son. But just a year after he was born, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I used to workout six days/week and was disciplined with my eating, but here I was, watching Netflix, drinking bourbon and eating the third pizza of the week. This had become my new normal. I was disgusted with myself. This isn’t the example I want to set. Something had to change.”
Gentlemen, in a world where there are so many forces that threaten to cripple our morale and limit the potential for self-actualization, our children need us to model true masculine essence in both form and function.
And frankly our soft-bellied caricature is uninspiring.
We are uniquely positioned in our homes and our children’s lives to show them the way. Being “Da-Da” can be so much more than the balding, pudgy, middle-aged man who nurtures with the best of them.
Here’s the thing, our industrialized world is filled with nurtured kiddos. Nurtured, passive, and complacent.
Passive and complacent…just like “Dad Bod”.
They might not face a Dragon or a Zombie Apocalypse in real life, but they will face the reality of a growing obesity epidemic, heightened economic competition, an increasingly convoluted path toward well-being and eventually the all-important questions about why we’re here and how to make the best of it with more than seven billion others who share the planet.
Our definition of “Dad Bod” needs to change.
But biology and neuroscience is against us. Do we throw our hands up and submit ourselves to softening muscle tone, decreased vitality, and poor habits?
The nice thing about being human is that we don’t have to accept what we are. With enough information and motivation, we can orchestrate a change.
All of this information, the mechanism of “Dad Bod” and the necessary nutrition and exercise science to combat it, is new.
Now you can train smarter in your weights and cardio, eat better and more purposefully, recovery harder, overcome injuries and obstacles.
We are the generation who understands “Dad Bod” and are free to choose otherwise.
So let’s do, shall we?
Redefining “Dad Bod”
A picture is worth a thousand words. What words come to mind when you redefine “Dad Bod”?
Here’s what I’m working toward—
“Dad Bod” is a set of strong arms and shoulders. My shoulders are what others may need to cry on. And at times the weight of the world will bear down on me as it did upon Atlas. I must hold on when others would let go. I will build strong arms and shoulders.
“Dad Bod” is a sturdy, powerful core. My core is the center of my stability for movement just as I am the center of stability for my home. Everything I do begins and ends with what is inside my center. I will build a sturdy, powerful core.
“Dad Bod” is an agile body. My agility allows me to overcome the obstacles that life puts in my path, quickly and decisively. In the unexpected pitfalls that come my way every day, I will bend like the majestic willow and survive. I will build an agile body.
“Dad Bod” is consistent energy. My energy leads me to work tirelessly to leave a positive mark on this world. And thereafter, I still have spare energy to give my kids a run for their money while devoting the same purposeful attention to the relationships that are important to me. I will build consistent energy.
“Dad Bod” is endurable. My endurance lets me keep moving forward even when I feel like giving up. The stubborn grit and focus makes me indomitable, and I will not be conquered. I will build endurance.
“Dad Bod” is disciplined. My mind is set. I mean what I say and do what I intend. I am dependable because I am an agent, not a slave to forces outside of my control. I will build discipline.
And you? What definition of “Dad Bod” are you going after?
Let’s Do This
Next time you see me on the floor, ask me how it’s going. Better yet, take a look. You tell me if I’m getting it right.
It’s not going to be easy.
But on the bright side, fatherhood actually seems to boost men’s incomes and job satisfaction, decrease risk of premature death, and fosters an environment where positive lifestyle choices stick.[xiii]
So truly there’s never been a more-important or better time in your life to join me in redefining “Dad Bod”.
Whaddya say, dad. You in?
[v] Lee T. Gettler Thomas W. McDade Alan B. Feranil, and Christopher W. Kuzawa. Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males Published online before print. September 12, 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1105403108. PNAS September 27, 2011 vol. 108 no. 39 16194-16199. <http://www.pnas.org/content/108/39/16194.short>
[vii] Gordon, G.C.; Altman, K.; Southren, A.L.; Rubin, E.; & Lieber, C.S. The effects of alcohol (ethanol) administration on sex hormone metabolism in normal men. New England Journal of Medicine 295:793-797, 1976.
[viii] Kranz GS, Wadsak W, Kaufmann U, et al. High-Dose Testosterone Treatment Increases Serotonin Transporter Binding in Transgender People. Biological Psychiatry. 2015;78(8):525-533. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.09.010.