I recently heard that when a dad holds his baby for the first time, his body creates a hormone that helps store fat so that he can cope with sleepless nights…
It sounded like a pretty rational explanation for why so many fit guys suddenly gain ten to twenty pounds of fat in their midsection when they become a parent.
But, like with all the things in the health and wellness world, about fifty percent of it is bullshit. So I did some research and here's what I found.
Hormones, Hunger and Weight Gain
It turns out, it’s true! Studies and researchers have shown that men experience an increase of prolactin during their partners’ pregnancy. Since testosterone and prolactin work in opposition to one another, the increase in prolactin leads to a decrease in testosterone, which leads to weight gain or softening.
In other words, the sympathy weight dads put on during pregnancy and the dad bod are not just a mean-old meme! They're the real deal, and they're supported by science.
Another study performed in 2018 pegs the weight gain on lack of sleep, which triggers the release of a hormone called ghrelin (sounds like gremlin, right?), also known as the "hunger hormone."
Dads who suffer from sleep deprivation, which means getting less than the needed amount of sleep per night (7-9 hours for adults!), wake up craving sugary and fatty foods. Ghrelin controls appetite and fat storage, thus, sleep deprivation over a long period of time changes the way that your body metabolizes carbohydrates and stores fat.
In a life or death situation, this would be GREAT! We would have extra fat to deal with whatever life threw at us and have the energy to take care of our young with all the demands of extra work with less sleep.
But, we are usually not in a fight or flight situation, so instead, we just feel tired and overweight most of the time. And the really shitty part is that this hormonal change can last for years.
What Can We Do?
So, what can we dads do about this? Having a newborn means that we don't get enough sleep. That's just a fact. You will wake up multiple times in the night, sleep will be interrupted for years, and depending on how many kids you crank out, that could stretch on for a long time...
But, don't give up hope! By taking a few simple steps, you can increase the quality of the little sleep you do get, slow down the amount of the hormone released, save your pre-baby figure, and keep all your favorite pants.
How to Get Better Sleep
Turn off all screens and tech devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Your brain needs darkness to trigger sleep pressure and the light from screens mimics daylight which in turn will make it harder to fall asleep.
Trade-off nights with your partner on who will take on the late-night responsibilities of having little ones. If you and your partner take turns in the same night, then both of you will be tired the next day and more prone to be "not the best version of yourselves." By having a solid night's sleep, at least there will be one parent who is fully functioning.
Have a bedtime routine for yourself. The same thing that we do for kids works for adults too. Doing a series of actions before bedtime will help your brain wind down and trigger sleep pressure.
If you do end up waking up in the night, don't turn on lights or reach for your phone or TV. If you are awake for a while, get up, drink some water, patrol the house to make sure all is clear, then go back to bed.
And last but not least, let's give the dad bod some love. Our bodies are constantly in a state of evolution, so it's no surprise that one of the most profound events in your life would lead to a state of change in your body. And it's all for a good cause.
So show that sexy dad bod of yours some love, get some good sleep and thank your body for doing all the hard work it does!
Your Dad Bod Comrade,