“Dad bods” are the new fitness standard for a growing bunch of men across the United States. What’s a dad bod? Well, think Seth Rogan, Jason Segel or Leonardo DiCaprio on summer vacation and between movie roles: overweight, out of shape, and happy and content with his pasta, rosé and Victoria’s Secret models. Basically, pudgy, cuddly, doughy, don’t really care about how you look any more: That’s the dad bod. And some women are supporting the new trend, if you believe the studies — apparently because having a man who has a dad bod as a partner takes the pressure off them to stay in shape. Another rationale is that if the man is not as focused on his own body, he’ll spend more time with and take better care of his partner and family — or so the theory goes.
Dad bods are not healthy or attractive
There are so many things wrong with the dad-bod movement, but I want to point out just a couple.
First up, no surprise: The dad bod is unhealthy.
The visceral fat (omentum) that gives you that dad-bod belly is partly caused when the liver fails to process healthy nutrients. The surrounding organs become irritated, leading to the growth of belly fat. This leads to high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol and, ultimately, heart disease. Man boobs can also be a sign that something seriously unhealthy may be happening in your near future. Too much estrogen — one of the contributing factors to man boobs and the dad bod — is linked to prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, diabetes, declining testosterone, and other serious health problems for men.
Secondly, man boobs and the whole dad-bod look are not attractive. Forget what the studies say about women liking the pudgy, doughy look. You don’t want man-breasts; those are the genetic right of your female partner. Leonardo DiCaprio can get away with them because, well, he’s Leo. You’re not. I’ve seen Leo a bunch of times in person on the beach, and he’s always covered up. The last time I saw him on Malibu beach, he had a member of his entourage standing waist-deep in the water with a towel to cover him up (and give him a lighted cigarette) as soon as he showed some skin. The poster child of the dad bod is not even proud of it, so let’s not evangelize it as if it’s something to aspire to.
Seven steps to losing the dad bod
Losing the dad bod can be as simple as starting to adopt healthier choices and making a commitment to better health. And since you can’t spot-reduce your man boobs, you’ll need to lose weight overall, using a combination of exercise, diet and lifestyle changes. Here are seven steps to get you started.
1. You have to lose weight (#nobrainer)
In addition to focusing on better nutrition, I recommend including PRIME workouts, which you can read more about in Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick-Ass Life After 40. Basically, PRIME workouts include:
- A thorough warmup using mobility exercises that warm and loosen up the muscles in your body and help restore a wide range of motion. This segment lasts for about 10 minutes.
- This is followed by four to six challenging, full-body exercises arranged in a circuit and performed in a HIIT manner: intense for a short period (say, 20 to 30 seconds), followed by a short rest period (say, one to two minutes), then repeat the exercise-rest cycle of these four to six exercises for a set number of reps (say, four to six) through the circuit.
It’s more strenuous than it sounds, and it works. You don’t need to spend hours at the gym to lose weight. You just have to exercise hard and with greater intensity as you age. Some of my best workouts are completed in 20 to 30 minutes and include PRIME workouts that incorporate explosive HIIT intervals lasting just 12 seconds each. Don’t believe you can get a full workout in 20 to 30 minutes? Try doing weighted sled pushes at full power for 12-second intervals over that period, and then we’ll talk.
2. Stop eating so much processed crap and ease up on the alcohol
You know this already. Avoid all the white stuff: white pasta, white breads, white flour, etc. If you’re not exercising (like most dad-bod owners), all these carbs just end up being stored in your cells as fat; and you’re on a fast track to adult-onset diabetes.
As the saying goes, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” This couldn’t be truer than when you are looking to get back in shape. Focus on getting the right amount of protein, healthy vegetables, and good fats like coconut oils, almonds and avocados. You also want to eat foods that are going to maintain an even glycemic load throughout the day and don’t put you on a continual cycle of blood sugar spikes and troughs. If you want a simple and healthy eating plan to get you back on track, try the Mediterranean diet, which is probably the closest parallel to what I eat on a daily basis.
And ease up on the alcohol – specifically beer. There’s a reason that big gut is called a beer-belly. The hops in beer are estrogen-promoters, and estrogen, as mentioned above, is a big contributor to the man belly and boobs. Too much estrogen leads to a state called “estrogen dominance“, which causes you to store fat around your waistline. And the more fat you have, the more estrogen is produced – creating a vicious cycle.
In addition, if your liver is processing alcohol all the time, it can’t efficiently metabolize fat. Alcohol also decreases testosterone and is toxic to the testes, so it’s a triple whammy: more fat, alcohol-induced breast enlargement and less testosterone — three things you want to avoid.
3. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep and try to chill out more
If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll end up craving carbs, which puts your blood sugar on a roller coaster. That’s why one of the best ways to lose weight is to literally sleep it off. Also, if you’re stressed, then your body is hard-wired to put on more weight via the release of cortisol (the stress hormone). So think about incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation or simply ditching your phone for a while and going for a walk. Getting enough sleep is also essential for natural production of both testosterone, and human growth hormone – which can help offset an estrogen imbalance in men.
4. Stay away from foods that contain phytoestrogens
Natural estrogens called phytoestrogens, which are found in some foods, may cause an estrogen-like effect because they have an ability to bind to estrogen receptors. And too much estrogen, as we learned above, can lead to weight gain, man boobs and other problems such as prostate cancer. The foods you want to limit or avoid include soybeans and soybean products (e.g., soy milk, tofu, edamame; with the exception of fermented soy), inorganic meat products, conventionally grow fruits and vegetables (because of pesticide contamination), alcohol (particularly beer, due to the hops), and dairy-based foods.
5. Avoid bisphenol-A (BPA) in bottles and other products
Research has shown that exposure to BPA can lower a man’s testosterone levels and fertility. BPA has also been linked to obesity and disruption of the thyroid gland, two factors associated with development of man boobs. More importantly, perhaps, is that BPA mimics estrogen, which can boost estrogen levels and place your estrogen-to-testosterone ratio in an unhealthy state. It’s not enough to avoid water bottles and other plastic items that say they are BPA-free, since the alternatives (e.g., BPA-S and BPA-F) have been found to be hazardous as well. Choose glass or stainless steel containers for food and beverages and also avoid handling register receipts, most of which are contaminated with high levels of BPA. When the cashier asks if you want the receipt in the bag, say “yes” or just trash it. Whatever you do, just don’t touch it.
6. Stop using after-shave and other fragrances
I stopped using after-shave years ago after I started reading the research on what they were doing to me. Personal care and household products that have fragrances such as after-shave, shampoos, body wash, hair gels, body lotions, deodorants, soaps, conditions, detergents, air fresheners, and sunscreens can also harbor hormone-disrupting substances called phthalates. Who cares? You should, since exposure to phthalates have been associated with a reduction in testosterone levels and infertility in men. A 2014 study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health reported a significant relationship between phthalate exposure and a decline in T levels among men ages 40 to 60 years. You should aim to use personal care and household products that are fragrance-free or that are made with natural, plant-based oils.
[Here’s a tip if you can’t give up the deodorant spray: The next time you’re spraying under your arms make sure you do it when you’re actively “walking” – that way you don’t breathe in the toxic fumes while you’re standing still and spraying yourself.]
7. Weight train, with heavy weights – and box
While it’s true you don’t burn lots of calories while you’re doing weight training, you will increase lean muscle mass as the fat drops off, along with those man boobs. In addition, weight training boosts the number of calories you’ll burn throughout the day due to an increase in your resting metabolic rate. Focus on all the big muscle groups — legs, back, chest — and mix it up with a lot of body-weight exercises like pushups, pull-ups, dips and weighted lunges. If you’re new to weight training, spend a few sessions with a trainer (budget allowing) before going out on your own; it’s important to learn proper technique so you don’t injure yourself. And if you want another surefire way to burn a lot of calories and get lean, then start boxing.
The bottom line: Looking after yourself is the best way to look after others
Look, I’m not saying we should all aspire to be ripped superheroes like the images we see in the media. The models and actors on the cover of Men’s Health and in the Marvel action movies don’t even remotely look like that 99 percent of the time. They have to train months just for a 5-second shirtless scene or a single photo. Staying in “action hero shape” is pretty much a full-time job, and few of us have the time or the inclination to carry around Tupperware containers with perfectly weighed portions of skinless chicken breast. What I am saying, though, is that you don’t want to use the celebrity dad bods and your middle age as an excuse for complacency and unhealthy habits. In between the dad bod and the god bod is a middle road of better health, more energy, better sex, more strength, increased fitness and a better, longer life — purely as a result of you caring more about your health and how you look.
Dad-bod supporters have a common tune: “The less time spent on you, the more time you have for me.” It’s a song usually sung by your significant other. Slipping into a dad bod is also a recognition that you’re “done” with looking after yourself, that you don’t need to try anymore. You have a life partner, your golf buddies, you may have some money for retirement; and life is on remote control. This is it.
Here’s a surefire way to explode that playbook: dying from a preventable chronic health condition linked to being overweight and unhealthy habits. Do you want to be a great partner, a great dad? Do you want to have a successful, long-term career? Do you want to be a good friend? Well, start looking after yourself first and foremost. And don’t slip in to the complacency of bad habits and a growing waistline just because it’s the celebrity trend of the 2015 summer. Looking after yourself is the best way to look after others around you. Adopt some of the seven tips above and start living the (long) life you deserve.