Fellow dads, have you ever looked at an old picture of yourself and thought, “Who is that guy?” “What happened to him?” Now here you are, perhaps a couple of jobs, houses, and kids later, realizing that the man you see in the mirror looks far different from the one in the photo. Initially, I stepped back from the mirror and said to myself, “It’s okay, I have a dad bod.” However, the longer I leaned into this excuse, the tighter my clothes got and the looser my definition of a “dad bod” became. Let’s imagine that I am not the only dad who has come face to face with this reality. It can be disheartening to see an unhealthy version of yourself and often seem too overwhelming to do something about it. So, what do you do? What did I do? In this article I will investigate the truth behind the so-called “dad bod defense” and offer some motivation for making a change.
Truth Behind the Dad Bod Defense
First, let’s explore the truth behind the dad bod defense. The closer it gets to the arrival of their child, expectant fathers often experience a decrease in motivation for exercise. For me, what were once daily runs turned into weekly jogs before slowing to occasional walks. Once our little one arrived, my exercise routine came to a screeching halt. If this sounds familiar to you, then you are not alone. Not only is a decrease in motivation for physical activity common in the early days of parenthood, but there is a scientific reason behind it.
Neurological studies in new fathers reveal that testosterone levels begin to decrease in the weeks leading up to their child’s birth. Additionally, research indicates that levels of oxytocin (commonly referred to as the love hormone) rise, particularly in fathers who take an active role in caring for their children. So what do these hormone changes tell us? It is actually very normal for a new father’s enthusiasm for physical activity to be eclipsed by an increased desire to be home with his family. As it turns out, this change need not be seen as a decrease in motivation to exercise, but rather a redirection of energy towards bonding with a father’s new baby. So be encouraged, dads! God hardwired your brains to refocus in preparation for fatherhood.
Motivation for Making a Change
While it is encouraging to learn that this hormonal change is by design, it is also important to realize that it does not last forever. Findings indicate that levels gradually begin to normalize between years one and two of fatherhood. So, around the time your kiddo starts moving, so should you. If you’re having difficulty finding that motivation to revitalize your wellness journey, look no further than the loud little humans sitting next to you on the couch right now. Yes, you read that right. The same bundles of joy that contributed to your sabbatical from the gym serve as a key reason to prioritize your health.
As my children grew out of the baby and toddler stage, it did not take long before the seemingly endless bike-rides and exhausting games of freeze tag yielded the response, “Daddy is too tired to play.” Unfortunately, this was not only affecting the time I spent with my children, but also my attitude towards them. A lack of attention to my physical wellbeing had contributed to a deficit in the amount of patience and kindness shown towards my family. As it turns out, this type of impact is not an anomaly. The correlation between one’s physical and mental health is no secret. Just as changes in testosterone and oxytocin levels contribute to dad and baby bonding, the increase in endorphin and dopamine levels produced during physical activity enhance one’s mood and ability to manage stress. Thus, studies show that a lack of regular physical activity can contribute to irritability, interrupted sleep, and an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression. In my experience these factors did not foster the quality of relationship that I desired to have with my children, which ultimately served as a key motivator for me to make a change.
After almost 10 years of fatherhood, and several years of clinging to the dad bod defense, I chose to prioritize my health and have lost 70 pounds. This decision has not only resulted in a boost of energy, but more importantly it has poured new life into my relationship with my kids. The words, “Daddy is too tired to play” have turned into my children saying, “Wow, now Daddy can run!” So, my fellow dads, if you are using the dad bod defense as your argument, take heart. You are not alone. While the dad bod defense is real, so is your ability to change course. I look forward to continuing this trek with you in my next article, which will outline practical steps to restarting your fitness journey.