A Guide to Understanding (and Defeating) the Infamous Dad Bod

Nutritional know-how brought to you by a 24-year physician

June 18, 2018 9:00 am

As with all phenomena of the internet:

The dad bod came, spawned essays and memes … and then retreated into the shadows.

Well, retreated as a daily punchline, at least. As long as aging men have couches and nachos at their disposal, the menace itself is here to stay.

So we set out to see what can be done about it.

Simply put, the dad bod represents an “Eh, I’ve seen worse” stomach flanked by a pair of “whatever” arms. It’s been embraced, maligned … but who really knows what it is? And what can one do to prevent or reverse the shape?

Answering those Qs: Dr. Robert Zembroski, 24-year specialist in functional medicine, clinical nutritionist, cancer victor and author of the health recovery book REBUILDDr. Zembrowski’s here to help us crack the dad-bod case back open, and help you banish it from your person accordingly.


Can you give us a professional, physiological definition of the dad bod?
The dad bod is really amorphic; it’s what I call the “mediocre-morph” or the “mediomorph” — the body type that is a few commitments away from being really fit, without much concern for the layer of fat overshadowing the muscles.The mediomorph is generally a healthy guy; genetically status quo; an untouched, unfussed-with body; without the effort to get defined or increase muscle mass and eliminate fat; without any real commitment to create a lean and defined body with diet and exercise.

How does it form?

Testosterone levels slowly decrease over time … This sets off a cascade of physical reactions in the body and brain. Low testosterone causes muscles to atrophy and weaken in the body, not to mention brain fog, a lack of motivation, low libido and even apathy. This creates the complacent mindset, a lack of interest in getting really fit and a lack of regard for dieting to lean out and get really healthy.

On eating too many high-calorie foods, and eating them at the wrong time of the day … High-calorie foods like pasta, bread, baked goods, pizza, refined sugars and too many beers increase the levels of the hormone insulin in the blood. That does two things: it tells cells to take in sugar (glucose) for energy, and any unused energy is stored as fat. The real issue for the guy who’s developed the dad bod, or is on his way to developing the dad bod, is eating these high-calorie insulin-pumping foods at night. Normally when he falls asleep, growth hormone is released from the brain to burn fat for fuel, heal the body and stimulate the testes to make testosterone. At night, after eating a high-carb meal and swigging down 2–3 beers, insulin levels rise, which shuts off the production of growth hormone and, consequently, testosterone production. So, eating high-calorie foods — including alcohol — can make a man fat and unhealthy.

Lack of weight training and/or high-intensity interval training … In other words, when a guy does just enough exercise to avoid feeling guilty for not going to the gym. With negligible exercise or none at all, a man’s muscles will slowly shrink and weaken.

Complications re: long-term health … Potential health complications that come with a dad bod include: low testosterone, high estrogen, excessive body fat and systemic inflammation. The development of intramuscular fat, excessive body fat and even a beer belly can create slow-simmering inflammation — an immune response where the immune system becomes overactive in slowly breaking down the body. This increases the risk of chronic health issues and serious disease. In addition to inflammation, body fat produces an enzyme called aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen. High estrogen in men can lead to man boobs, weak erections, prostate disease and cardiovascular disease. Guys who sit for long periods of time, as well as those who don’t work out (or exercise infrequently enough to not mention), should heed warnings on physical inactivity. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise concluded that riding in a car for more than 10 hours a week increased the likelihood of death from heart disease by 48 percent … Basically, inactivity contributes to a soft dad bod and increases the risk of major health issues.


Any particularly nasty food culprits that aid the formation of a dad bod?
The dad bod forms out of a lack of meaningful training and exercising, sedentary behavior and the excessive consumption of bread, dairy, and white refined sugars. High-calorie, high-carb, nutrient-absent foods like pasta, white rice, pizza, baked goods, chased with one too many beers, can all increase the levels of circulating insulin and the subsequent formation of body fat. Again, high-calorie foods that increase insulin and body fat can increase the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. This does not bode well for a lean and healthy guy.

I’ve already got a dad bod. Is it possible for me to reverse it?
The fastest way to improve the dad bod, if someone chooses to do so, is to first eliminate bread, diary, white refined sugars, and any other sugar-pumping foods. Eat most of your food when the sun is out, not when the moon is out. Back-loading your calories at the end of the day increases insulin, reduces the production of growth hormone and circulates levels of testosterone. Basically, eating processed refined foods at night will make you fat and sick while you sleep.

I’m convinced I’ll have a dad bod eventually. What can I do to avoid it?
For the guy who fears he’s destined to be a mediomorph, here are some simple guidelines to adopt:

  • Eliminate bread, dairy, and white refined sugar — or at least eat those food sources infrequently.
  • Eat 3–4 protein sources (grass-fed beef, bison, free-range poultry, wild-caught seafood) a day. Nothing processed: deli meats, sausage, cured meats.
  • Eat a healthy portion of plant-based foods with each meal. Salads or a side of vegetables (not covered in butter) works. Between meals, snacks can also be plant-based. Broccoli/cauliflower/celery/carrots with hummus is a great in-between snack.
  • Snacking on nuts should not mean eating a whole bag. Typically, 10 nuts like cashews, almonds, or walnuts, constitute a serving. Two servings a day is a good start.
  • Chose healthful fats, including cold-pressed oils.
  • Eat when the sun is out, and when you are most active.
  • And whatever you do, don’t eat refined carbs before bed.

Now get out there and cut that gut.

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