Should fatherhood come with a health warning?
WARNING: The following chapter of your life will be one of unbridled joy and love but may also result in sleep deprivation, stress, self-doubt, fatigue, and near-guaranteed weight gain.
Sound familiar? All of the above likely rings true for those of us who have crossed over to fatherhood. But while many of these physical stresses eventually fade as our kids get older, weight gain during these years is something that could be harder to shake, potentially lead to more debilitating disease down the road. The "dad bod" is apparently not a souvenir of early fatherhood that one should keep around for long.
A new study published in the American Journal of Men's Health found that, on average, men gain about 4.4 pounds after becoming first-time dads. The study analyzed the body mass index (BMI) of 10,000 men from adolescence into their mid-30s, with a notable jump in BMI for men within the first 10 years of becoming a father. During the same period, the average BMI of men who did not father a child tended to decline slightly.
While a few pounds here or there may not sound like anything serious, medical experts warn that lifestyle changes like fatherhood could put men on a trajectory for more serious consequences down on the road.
"We know that during this period of time — late adolescence to early adulthood — men's weight really has a long-term effect on their lifetime risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and even premature death," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips told "CBS This Morning."
After reading the study, I decided to conduct my own informal poll on Facebook, asking dads to weigh in on the whole fatherhood weight thing and whether they agreed with the study. The consensus is that it's all true. Becoming a parent really does physically and mentally knock you out. When family becomes the priority, we're often left with little time for our own well-being.
"My workouts have to be before 6 am or I'm either breaking up fights or having to explain everything which kills my groove," wrote one. "And if they get me up 3 times at night, 6 am is tough. Plus transport to their activities, convenience food, and eating off their leftovers. Oh, and grandmas always want to make sure there is a choice of desserts..."
Some men referenced weight gain during their wives' pregnancy as an initial harbinger that then became exacerbated after the children arrived.
"I gained more weight during the latter half of my wife's pregnancy than in the 15 years preceding it," wrote another. "I'm not sure if that counts since it was technically 'pre' fatherhood. Kid was just born a couple of weeks ago & I'm trying to curb the gain but with the time demands & exhaustion post-baby, I don't see it getting better any time soon."
Others listed marriage as the biggest contributor to their weight gain, a factor recently classified in one extensive study as "love weight."
"I became more sedentary after marriage," added one dad. "Our kids were born shortly after we were married (not that shortly!) so I guess the two events (marriage and fatherhood) kind of coincided. Fatherhood actually made me less sedentary as I would play with our kids every day. So if anything, having kids may have been helpful in keeping weight gain down."
So what's a guy to do before becoming a dad to avoid packing on extra pounds? Develop good habits early. As one father told me, the keys to his success have been a vegetarian diet and an active love of the outdoors.
"I have always been pretty active, so I used to try to go climbing and play soccer fairly regularly," he writes. "I now also have a dog that needs frequent walks, and a huge garden to work in, and my younger kids are addicted to biking, so we do that a lot in the evenings."
If there's anything to conclude from all of this it's this:
a.) being a parent is extremely hard
b.) we're all doing the best we can, and
c.) it's important, when possible, to make time for our own health, as well as the health of the family around us.
"For a father, "the kids" is the noblest of excuses for not staying in shape," wrote one dad. "It is still an excuse."
Got any tips for staying in shape after the kids arrive? Drop them in the comments below.
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