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Is Dad Bod a Real Thing?

What you need to know about the social phenomenon


Dad bod—the once gym-toned but now softer and rounder physique attained by males after becoming fathers.

When my wife showed me that little stick with the plus sign, it immediately dawned on me that our lives would be in for some serious changes, both as a couple and as individuals. Along with the added financial stress, the 3 am feedings and diaper changes, and being forced to sacrifice my Man Cave®, there would be the obvious physical changes for my wife, including but not limited to the baby bump. But less obvious are my physical changes.

Since getting married, I’ve noticed my weight slowly creeping upward. I largely attributed this to being in my mid-to-late thirties, moving to the suburbs, and having a wife and mother-in-law who are both conspiring to make me fat (translation: they are really good cooks). However, after an initial spike, my weight generally stabilized. That is, until I got the baby news, and now the moving needle on the scale is indicating a descent into so-called “dad bod.”


What is dad bod?

Dad bod—the once gym-toned but now softer and rounder physique attained by males after becoming fathers—has probably been with us for as long as men and women have been having children, though it only recently became a recognized social phenomenon. The first appearance of dad bod in dates back to 2009, though the term became viral on social media upon the publication of a 2015 essay espousing the virtues of dad bod, entitled (what else) “Why Girls Love the Dad Bod” by Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson.

But, while Pearson’s essay actually delves into the sex appeal of less gym-toned young men in their early 20s who have yet to be fathers, the dad bod phenomenon is a real one. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found that while men showed positive correlation between age and BMI over a 20-year period, fathers gained weight at a faster rate.


The causes of dad bod

Along with the expected changes in physiology that tend to occur as we age—decreased muscle mass, testosterone levels, and metabolic rates—fatherhood comes with a lot of the things that contribute to weight gain. This includes the sleepless nights, added stress, and marked reduction in free time that would otherwise be spent at the gym.

There’s also another phenomenon called couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy, in which men experience many of the same physical effects that their partners are experiencing, ranging from morning sickness, to back pain, to food cravings, to actual weight gain.

While this is not officially recognized as a real syndrome by the medical community, couvade syndrome has been acknowledged in a few studies. One study measured the hormone levels of the expectant father, finding elevated levels of prolactin and reduced testosterone, coinciding with the mother’s changes in hormone levels. The elevation was much higher in fathers who had more severe couvade symptoms.

As of this writing, my wife and I still have a ways to go before our child is born (due July 24!), which means I probably have a few more pounds to pack on. However, I’m not going down without a fight. While I probably won’t end up with the same body I had in my twenties, I hope to at least maintain a healthy weight.



No Proof

No Proof

Raise a glass and say cheers to not-so-hard drinks

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD