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Does Fatherhood Actually Change Men’s Bodies?

03 June 2022

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Becoming a father is one of the greatest gifts you can ever experience. It can also quickly become one of the most challenging times of your life as you learn to balance life as a parent with your preexisting routine.

The mental and physical time commitment of caring for a child often leads to less energy to give in other areas of your life, such as diet and exercise. Anecdotally, that means your body is prone to changing. But what does the research say? We take a look at if there is data behind the idea that fatherhood can make you gain weight.

What is a dad bod?

You’ve probably heard the phrase dad bod before, either from television shows or on social media. If you aren’t familiar with this fad, it simply is a slang term to describe a middle-aged father who has an average physique.

Dad bods have been embraced during the past several years, providing a stark contrast in appearance to men with ripped muscles and thin waistlines.

In theory, the dad bod transformation is due to the time constraints of raising a child – limited time to work out and maintain a healthy diet.

Why do new dads gain weight?

While it’s not impossible to avoid, many dads experience this change – and there is real data to fit this narrative. Several years ago, Northwestern University published a study of 10,000 men that showed fathers gained more than 4 pounds after having their first child. By comparison, men without children lost an average of 1.4 pounds.

There are several reasons for this. Life is altered in a big way when you bring your baby home from the hospital. Your sleep schedule changes, your eating schedule changes and even your weekend plans change.

This frantic schedule doesn’t leave much down time, and any free time you may have will likely go toward your family – instead of to the gym or in the kitchen to meal plan. Priorities shift and so does your lifestyle. Eventually, these bad behaviors catch up to you. The more weight you gain, the harder it is to make changes and get back on track.

Aside from the time component, eating habits tend to change as well. Children love life’s guilty pleasures such as cookies, ice cream, chips and soft drinks. Whether it’s finishing off your child’s plate at dinner or sneaking in a snack or two, those extra calories – combined with a lack of exercise – can add up.

Postpartum depression is often only associated with mothers, but it can also affect men. In turn, depression can lead to poor eating habits and weight gain – some people self soothe by binge eating or developing unhealthy habits.

Fathers gaining weight during pregnancy

Weight can start long before you actually become a father. In fact, men can gain weight right along with their partners – even if they’re not the ones growing the child.

Couvade syndrome

There’s actually a name for this phenomenon called couvade syndrome. This condition occurs when the partner of a pregnant woman experiences similar pregnancy symptoms. It is also referred to as sympathetic pregnancy.

Many theories exist why men can experience pregnancy-like symptoms. They include changes in hormone levels, feelings of attachment to their child and feelings of empathy toward their partner.

Back in 2009, a study in the United Kingdom polled 5,000 fathers and found the average weight gain during pregnancy was a whopping 14 pounds. The culprits? Eating out more frequently, more snacks around the house for their partner, bigger portions and, finally, the urge to make their partner feel better about themselves. In other words, being a team player.

Couvade syndrome in males is not just limited to an increase in food consumption, either. Men can also experience fatigue, anxiety, depression, nausea and diarrhea.

Tips to avoid weight gain

This seems obvious, but it’s important to take care of yourself when you have a child. There are times when it will seem like 24 hours in the day isn’t enough, but establishing a routine can help you make the most of your time.

Avoiding weight gain starts with your activity level and the food you eat. Even if you don’t have time for the gym, a quick home workout or walk around the neighborhood with your child will do the trick.

As for food choices, control your portions to avoid overeating and load up your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Many new fathers feel they don’t have enough time to cook or grocery shop, leading to an increase in takeout meals or fast food. Other healthy eating tips include avoiding processed and high-carb foods such as chips, baked goods and desserts.

Cutting down on alcoholic drinks will also help. Visceral fat, a type of fat that lies deep in your abdominal cavity, is associated with alcohol consumption. This stubborn fat is more difficult to burn off than subcutaneous fat (the type of fat you can grab with your hand). In addition, visceral fat can increase your risk of developing heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and certain cancers.

It’s important to remember doing your part to avoid weight gain after becoming a father isn’t just about yourself. Think of it as a way to set a healthy example for your child. They see what you eat and how active you are. Any bad habits that are formed can be easily passed on to them.

Plus, childhood obesity is a growing concern In the U.S. In Oklahoma, the state has the eighth highest youth obesity rate with more than a third of children ages 10 to 17 years old falling into this category. 

If you just had a child and have questions about your weight or a healthy lifestyle, talk to your primary care physician about ways to mentally and physically cope with the new demands of being a father. Visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog for more trending health and lifestyle topics.


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