It’s almost a cliche that after marriage men tend to gain weight. We might attribute the weight gain to being happy, being settled, or not having to try so hard since the impetus for staying thin has been removed; namely, the pursuit of a mate. If marriage is enough for a male to gain weight, then fathers have to be even more vigilant about their health. Any time you may have had for exercise or preparing a proper meal will be eliminated when you have a newborn, or young children at home. It takes preparation and intention to stay healthy and keep the excess weight off when you’re a father. For a lot of men, the fatherhood stage can last about sixty years!
There were a lot of steps that I took on my path to health. A big wake up call for me was when our third child was born. My wife was in a lot of pain during the delivery. He was coming fast, and the epidural too little too late, and was not kicking in fast enough. The screams of anguish were hard for me to hear, and I started feeling light-headed. My heart was pounding, and suddenly I couldn’t see straight and lost my balance. One of the medical staff present helped me lie down on the little cot next to the window in the hospital room. I laid there for a while until I could start seeing clearly again. It was not fun. It was go time for me, and I was lying on the cot instead of encouraging my wife. Instead of simply feeling bad and sorry, I took it as a wake up call to get my health in order. I did not want to have another “episode” again, especially not in front of my children. I was not getting any exercise nor was I eating particularly well. I started reading about health and nutrition. I read a great book Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. I cut carbs and sugars wherever I could (I did have some honey in my afternoon tea however, and I did eat plenty of strawberries). When I did that I naturally ate more greens, especially my favorite: baby kale. I lost 15 pounds in a month.
After a little while, we moved. It was a big disruption. Carbs and sugars slowly creeped back into my diet and I gained weight again. I was almost as heavy as I was when I had my “spell” at the birth of my third child. Then one day, after eating french toast for breakfast I had had enough. All these carbs and sugars were just not making me feel well. I felt bloated and nauseated. I felt full and yet hungry too. Weird. There was a finality about my decision this time. I was tired of being tired. I had no energy to deal with my low energy. That was it.
So far so good. I’ve been off carbs and sugars for a while now, and my weight is back in the normal range for my bmi. I’m just under 180 lbs and I’m six feet even. Ideally, I should weigh even less than I do now. I should be in the 160 lb range. 180 is the high end of “normal.” I feel good. I’m not hungry all the time. I think clearly. I sleep well. I know that I’m doing what I can to stay healthy for my family. Knowing what I know now, I could almost characterize the way I ate as “reckless” before. How could I have eaten like that?
There are plenty of ways to stay healthy as a stay at home dad. Here are 12:
- Lifestyle eating. The word “diet” has a negative connotation for good reason. It signifies temporary asceticism to achieve a desired weight. After the desired weight is achieved, then the healthy eating and exercise will most likely disappear. I propose “lifestyle eating.” Eating healthy as a way of life. Lifestyle eating also means by implication avoiding unhealthy foods like animal fats, carbs, and sugars. If you eat healthily as a way of life it becomes who you are as a person. Conversely, you can easily say no to unhealthy foods that aren’t a part of your lifestyle because you have a powerful and overwhelming “yes” for what it is you do eat. It’ll be easy to say, “I eat this (healthy food).” On the other hand, it’s easy to also say “I just don’t eat that (unhealthy food).” My wife and I know a couple of Seventh Day Adventists. They are some of the healthiest people in the U.S. for many reasons. They eat an essentially vegetarian diet rich in plants. We’ve noticed that they have no problem saying no to all of the unhealthy foods that surround them. They say, “I just don’t eat that.” It’s part of their lifestyle and identity to eat healthily.
- Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). It can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin on the journey to health. One way is to get a scale and face the truth of how much you actually weigh. Weigh yourself in the morning after you wake up. After you know what you weigh, you can calculate your BMI. This will be an important step to know what you actually weigh in comparison to what you should weigh in relation to BMI. You might think that your weight is acceptable, and you look and feel ok. However, you may be a good ten pounds overweight according to your BMI. I feel pretty good at 180 pounds; but, I am at the very high end of the spectrum for my height (6 foot even) to be still considered normal weight. I could easily be 160 pounds and be in the middle range of normal weight.
- Watch out for holiday food and break room food. I have a rule for myself: don’t eat something just because it’s there. Holiday food and food at work are big temptations. It’s amazing how we will unconsciously eat something just because it’s in front of us, or because it’s convenient, or simply because we shrug carelessly and say “why not?” The food that’s offered is usually full of carbs and sugar. It’s the food of the masses. It comes in a box or a plastic bag instead of coming from the ground or from a tree. My wife tells me about the rapidity with which junk food gets gobbled up from the break room at work. Again, that’s just consuming food without discrimination. It’s free food that’s in your range of vision. Does that mean you should eat it? No. Sometimes people will bring food to your home while visiting. Even if someone brings over healthy food like carrots and green peppers, I probably won’t eat it. I try to simply eat at meal times, mainly as a bulwark against temptations.
- Don’t eat the food of the masses and get massive. You know the foods of the masses: fast food, frozen food, convenience store food, sugary food, carb loaded food, fatty food, greasy food etc. The food of the masses tends to be ubiquitous. It’s available and easy to eat. It’s addictive. It’s pleasurable in the short term. It fills your stomach. Eating this way week in and week out will have deleterious health effects. The more you eat this way the more you want to eat this way. It’s everywhere, and hence hard to avoid if you’re tempted by it. Best to stay away from it altogether.
- Don’t eat unless you’re hungry. I will tell you that this is much easier when you are eating low carb and low sugar foods (see Why We Get Fat). When you’re eating a high carb and high sugar diet, your body thinks it is hungry when it’s not. It has to do with insulin production. This is not the way we were meant to eat. A pear shaped body is not the way we are supposed to look. I used to have to have a bowl of cereal every night after dinner as a snack. Now, I don’t even think about eating after dinner. In fact, I brush my teeth after dinner because I’m done eating for the night.
- Know what your temptations are. If you do end up eating Whole 30 or Primal (synonyms for “low carb and low sugar), you may still be tempted by certain foods. For me it’s sweet things like cookies. I do not even touch cookies anymore. I make sure that I do have lots of very dark chocolate (with little to no sugar) on hand. That dark chocolate even in a small amount usually satisfies me well enough. I know someone else who is very tempted by potato chips. Stay away from your temptations, i.e., don’t even have them in your house. Instead have plenty of good foods that you can eat and fill up on those.
- Don’t wait for an emergency or a disease to make you get healthy. The problem with eating unhealthily is that people can get away with it for a long time without any consequences, or at least without feeling the consequences. If they eat fast food everyday, they will not feel their arteries clogging up with oil and fat. But the day may come when they will have a heart attack, and may not even survive it. Why should it take an emergency to get someone to adapt a healthy lifestyle?
- Practice preventative eating. Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine, and medicine your food.” Eat what is healthy and beneficial. Do not eat garbage. Your body is not a trash can. The Bible says your body is a temple. Eat foods that are high in antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients. Eat real food. Eat fresh food. Eat foods that fight cancer (like broccoli), even if you don’t have cancer. Eat foods that won’t cause heart attacks. Eat foods that won’t cause fatty liver. It used to be the case that only heavy drinkers had fatty liver, now fatty liver is commonplace among non-drinkers. The food of the masses causes fatty liver.
- Get some lab work done. This is similar to getting a scale and calculating your BMI. You’re finding out the truth about your body. See what your cholesterol is. See if you have fatty liver. What’s your blood pressure? Even if your labs are good, practice preventative eating nevertheless. Labs helped me face the reality of the state of my body. It’s not enough to say that you feel alright. Let the labs tell you the truth.
- Move your body. Walk your kids to school. Take the stairs. Walk on the escalator. Ride your bike for short trips. If you’re doing computer work, find a high place to put your computer and stand and work. Find a sport you enjoy. Get some home exercise equipment that you will actually use. I like using a big heavy bag. I do not hook it up from the ceiling. I lift it, carry it up stairs, do squats with it, “bench press” it, etc. I get as creative as possible. I don’t recommend joining a gym. It’s not fiscally prudent, and it takes a lot of time to go there and come back. That’s time you could be spending with your loved ones. Set yourself up as well as you can at home so you don’t have to go anywhere to exercise. If all else fails, do some push ups and pull ups.
- The health benefits outweigh the temporal pleasure of a sugar high or insulin spike. At a certain point I listened to my body. I knew that I didn’t feel good when I ate carbs and sugar. Overall, I feel much better filling up on vegetables, fruit, and good protein like eggs. I don’t feel bloated anymore. I have more energy. I’m more alert. Even though it might be pleasurable to eat a doughnut, it would make me feel awful afterwards. I would rather feel good all the time than get a short high and experience a sugar hangover.
- Drink water. Don’t drink your calories. Don’t reach for a soda or a sugary coffee drink. That’ll pack on the pounds. Drinking water helps satiate your hunger. Drink water instead of snacking on sweet carby things. Drink water when you go out to eat. If you’re tempted to drink something that has calories, try drinking carbonated water.
In the end, figuring out how to be healthy is one of the most important things you will do as a human being. The default for Americans nowadays is being overweight and having fatty liver. Chris Farley used to be an anomaly. If he were alive today, we wouldn’t even look twice. He looks “normal” by today’s standards. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a contrary person. If everyone is going one way, I like to ask, “why not go the other way?” Similarly, if being overweight is default mode for Americans the contrary nature in me wants to be of normal weight just for the sake of being different. I didn’t become a stay at home dad to be like everyone else.