Sven Wombwell
Article by: Sven Wombwell
Estimated 6 minutes read

The term "dad bod" has been around for a while, and most people have at least an idea of what it is. But if you've recently heard the term and are wondering, what is a 'dad bod?' Read on. We'll cover what it is, how it became popular, some of the science behind what it really means to have a 'dad bod,' and the associated health risks.

What Is a 'Dad Bod?'

A 'dad bod' refers to any guy who doesn't have a lean muscular physique. We consider them to be average guys that, while not fat, aren't exactly chiseled either. They may work out and are relatively fit, but they aren't obsessive about their bodies and are pretty relaxed about their diet.

One important thing to clarify is that guys with a 'dad bod' don't need to be dads. They can be any age and with or without kids of their own. The term refers more to a body type, such as a pear shape, skinny fat or toned vs. the state of being a father.

The term wasn't new when Clemson University student Mackenzie Pearson wrote a piece for her school newspaper that went viral online. Her 2015 article, 'Why Girls Love the Dad Bod,' gained much media attention from heavy hitters such as New York Magazine, the Washington Post and GQ, all talking about 'dad bods' and what it meant to have one.

It may have hit home for so many because it spotlighted men's bodies in a way that wasn't the norm and sparked numerous conversations. 

Fast forward to the pandemic, and attention to the 'dad bod' is back again. When we went on lockdown, many things changed, and no one could get out. Dating moved to Zoom calls with dates consisting of dinner and movies. Drinking, eating and binging new series became a new way of life, and working out and getting out fell by the wayside.

So, with all the buzz around 'dad bods,' we decided to see if there was more to it than a popular cultural moment. What we found may surprise you.

The Science Behind the 'Dad Bod'

First of all, yes, the 'dad bod' is a real thing. According to a study, ¹ new dads undergo changes affecting their hormonal levels and brains. To prepare for fatherhood, they become more in tune with the stimuli relating to parenthood and experience a drop in testosterone levels and a rise in plasma oxytocin. This love hormone promotes an empathetic response in relationships, including with newborn babies. 

This combination of home changes often produces weight gain, altered work habits, relaxation, workout routines and sleep cycles. 

Another study ² researched the changes in a new father's body chemistry and found that when shown photos of children, their brain chemistry showed stronger reactions to emotion, reward and motivation than non-fathers. 

In the same study, they showed new dads and non-dads provocative images. The non-dads had a stronger response, possibly due to the additional energy and focus used as a new parent.

While the rise of oxytocin doesn't seem permanent, it offers paternal benefits when bonding with children. New dads show increased touch, care, and play and less aggression when interacting with their babies.

Life Changes With Fatherhood

It's not surprising that becoming a dad comes with its own set of challenges. They tend to have more stress as they are responsible for another life, so they sleep less ³ and gain weight. Like moms, their lives change, and the focus shifts from themselves to their children.

One study 4 even found that after a man has become a father, he tends to hear a baby cry much faster than those who haven't been dads. This shift happens in fathers who are frequently with the child and provide hands-on care, such as holding, changing diapers, and bathing the baby vs. just being in the room. It's one reason experts find paternity leave such a vital time for dads to bond with their new babies.

Health Risks Associated With the 'Dad Bod'

Despite some positive news surrounding the 'dad bod,' having a fuller midsection has serious health implications. 

According to Cleveland Clinic, 6 extra weight around the midsection can lead to diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, comprising of high blood pressure, high sugar levels and high blood lipids, which can put you at risk for stroke and heart attacks.

Metabolic syndrome occurs due to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. One sign of insulin resistance is belly fat. Insulin resistance,  high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol cause inflammation in the blood vessels and are key factors in the causation of heart disease.

So, while the 'dad bod; may have some value regarding fatherhood, the health risks associated with it can be more damaging than it's worth.

How to Get Rid of The 'Dad Bod?'

If you're serious about losing the 'dad bod,' there are some steps you can take. 

  • Choose healthy options. While preparing meals for a new baby can be challenging, keeping healthy options around is essential. Keep it simple by having plenty of fruits, nuts and greens around to make a quick salad or enjoy a healthy snack of apples and nuts.
  • Make the most of small chunks of time. Finding the time to put an hour in at the gym may not be realistic, so take advantage of nap time by doing some push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks to get your heart rate up and build muscle.
  • Get outside. Taking the baby on walks and using a jogging stroller will benefit you and the baby.
  • Get a set of dumbbells. To burn more fat, building more muscle is important, so a few dumbbells can be a great option when you can't get to the gym. 
  • Go to bed early. Once the baby is down, hit the sack and get as much sleep as possible.
  • Hormone replacement Therapy. While HRT may not be necessary for everyone, if you're over thirty, it may be something to consider to see if it could help. A good place to start is to check your hormone levels to see if they could be affecting your physique, energy levels and weight gain.

While the 'dad bod' gained popularity online and through social media, science proves that the changes men experience when they become dads and the 'dad bod' itself are a natural part of the experience of becoming a father and a common symptom of aging.

man holding belly

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