Watching my children grow up a little more each day reminds me how much my life has changed. In the past, summer Saturday mornings consisted of loading my mountain bike up for a spin on nearby singletrack. Now, I spend those mornings begging the girls for just a few more minutes of sleep.
But, lack of sleep and not enough time for hobbies aren’t the only types of changes a new dad may face. In the summer of 2015, I read a story about the dad bod – a body type of a guy who occasionally works out but is also rocking a beer gut. The Associated Press story about a study piqued my interest even further.
The Dad Bod Study
The study, authored by Northwestern University’s Craig Garfield, MD, and several other researchers, says the dad bod phenomenon may be a real thing. In fact, researchers found men typically gain three to five pounds after becoming a father.
Only three to five pounds? That doesn’t seem like much, but I wanted to know how big a deal three to five pounds really is. To weigh in on the matter (see what I did there?), I asked Courtney Isley, MD, from the Banner Health Clinic in Johnstown, Colorado, to explain what this weight gain could mean.
“There is evidence to suggest that weight gain during late adolescence and early adulthood is associated with increased risk of diabetes, accelerated coronary atherosclerosis – a hardening of the arteries that feed the heart – future heart disease, and even cancer and early death,” Dr. Isley said. “This is also the time when many men become fathers for the first time, so weight gain at this time may make them more vulnerable to these risks.”
A look at your diet
While exercise is important and can help reduce the risks of disease, Dr. Isley suggested diet changes are critical as well.
“For instance, a person has to walk about four miles to work off the calories from one can of soda. Hint: it would be better not to drink the soda,” she said.
Because sleep patterns, food choices and activity levels will likely change once the baby comes along, Dr. Isley suggested the better strategy is to make lifestyle changes before the birth.
Some of Dr. Isley’s suggestions:
- Try to limit screen time to less than two hours daily. When you watch TV, you don’t move your body and are generally tempted to snack.
- Cut out sugary drinks — these “liquid calories” do not fill you up, but rather pack in more calories on top of meals and snacks. They are usually not nutritious (including fruit juice, which is mainly sugar).
- Share night-time duties so that both parents can get the rest they need. Sleep deprivation can sap your energy to make healthy food choices and get exercise.
- Take walks with your baby. Get out of the house for needed breaks and do something active with friends.
- Avoid over-doing fast foods and frozen foods, many of which are high in salt, carbohydrates and fats. Keep fruits, nuts and vegetables in the house as healthy snacks.
- Establish a primary care provider who can help you with following a healthy diet and weight-loss strategies.
Why Change is Good
The good news is Dr. Isley says it’s never too late to get started on making changes. And, the reasons a dad should make those changes are pretty important.
Dr. Isley noted the study shows a father’s weight has a huge influence on his child’s weight. In fact, in families where the dad is overweight and the mom is normal weight, the odds that the child will be obese were more than four times greater. Those odds jump to more than 14 times if the father is obese.
“Most dads would do anything it takes to provide a healthy future for their kids,” Dr. Isley said. “So, not just for them, but for their children, these changes are really, really important.”
I chalked up my weight gain to all of the jars of Blueberry Buckle I helped my daughters put away, but there were probably a lot of factors behind it. As hard as it sounds, I think it’s time to take this advice to heart and make some changes for the better.