Much of my food-related writing is pretty light-hearted and very sarcastic, but be warned that this article is going to be pretty weighty and personal. Enjoy! No pictures, unfortunately.
It is a treat that you get to learn about what a “foodie” eats when not on the job, so I am providing a little snippet about my eating style when I’m not eating out, and I eat out a lot. I actually binge-eat—not in the sense of overeating outrageous amounts of food—but in the sense of eating a whole lot of the same item. I have had binges of sweet potatoes, corn, popcorn, whole wheat crackers, chips… not at the same time, mind you. One item that I had a bout of binging stopped me dead in my tracks. In my freshman year of college, I was daily eating handfuls of dried soybeans a day, edamame pods (“fresh” soybeans”), and chunks of tofu in dining hall salads. This was by no means all of my nutrition, but essentially, soy filled the gaps for a lot of my meals and snacks. I figured it was healthy, and heck, it tasted good.
We often find ourselves taking what we learn in academia, specifically in the science field, for granted. It is hard to understand many concepts such as hormones or physiological maladies until they become tangible. For me, that is exactly how I felt about my nutrition and anatomy curricula. Then, in the winter of 2010, everything learned in my science courses became all too personal and real.
Just in my sophomore year of college, I felt that there was seriously something wrong in my body. I was constantly feeling cold, I would fall asleep randomly due to fatigue, and my skin was developing a yellow tint. At one point, I fell asleep during a DUB-STEP concert! My emotions were in a constant state of instability.
Sure of my own knowledge of the endocrine (hormone) system, I diagnosed myself with low thyroid. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone, which stimulates metabolism, energy production, and pretty anything that keep your motor running. I was certain that I was deficient in this hormone. Worst case scenario would be to remove my gland and take life-long supplements. After finals concluded for the semester, I went home to see my friend’s mother, who is a nurse practitioner with her own practice. She ran some blood tests and called me back with wonderful news: my thyroid hormones were within normal levels. Then came the life-changing news: my testosterone levels were abysmally low, far lower than any healthy males’ levels, regardless of age.
I was essentially infertile as a 20-year old male. She quickly referred me to an endocrinologist, a hormone specialist. Still trying to piece together my life, I recalled having read an article in Men’s Health magazine. The article essentially highlighted the life of a military veteran who drank about a gallon of soy milk daily. He began having mood swings and developed breasts. After getting numerous blood tests, it was determined that he had shockingly low testosterone and elevated estrogen.
My doctors failed to believe this, and thus, they placed me on Androgel, an artificial male steroid. They also entertained the idea that something was pressing on my pituitary gland in my brain, and this possible tumor could have been dangerous. Additionally, they did propose the idea that I may not be able to reproduce. This was probably the most disheartening news, as people have always told me that I really have a heart for children and that I am going to be a great father. The news just kept piling on. I woke up every day that winter break praying for my life. I have always been a believer in Jesus Christ, but I can assure you that I was just ready for heaven at this point. I came to terms with the potential infertility, and luckily the MRI showed that my brain was normal, with no abnormal activity.
I started out with minimal doses of the Androgel, which was applied in a cream form; a few pumps daily were smeared on the shoulder. Throughout the 2010 spring, I felt no different; I was still very tired. That summer, I decided to get off of the medicine, as I was going to be studying abroad in Singapore and Vietnam, with the wonderful Asiago and Drew Bean. Anyone who has been that way knows it is humid and roughly 95 degrees ALL summer. I felt a lot better, and this may have been due to the increase in temperature.
In my junior year, my doctors urged me to take the medication again, and I began using the full doses. I was resentful for them pressing medication, but I complied… they were doctors, right? In the spring of 2011, I gained 15 pounds in 2 months. The weight gained was not fat or muscle weight, but rather just water weight that would not go away. I felt constantly bloated, and I was eating very little. Those who know me know that I can put down a sickeningly large amount of food—I love buffets! My father, who always speaks truth in to me, pushed me to get 2, 3, 4 more endocrinology opinions. I was certain that the suggestions would be the same. I made a commitment to not necessarily change my diet, but I added in a lot of information learned in my nutrition curricula. Please do not take any of these for fact… research is always “questionable.” I cut out all soy; added in more red meat, which MAY stimulate testosterone; and began eating a lot of sweet potatoes, which chemically RESEMEBLE testosterone. I added in a multi-vitamin and fish oil supplement. I will be the last person to take medication or supplements, but the multi-vitamin just felt right, and my professors claim fish oil as the important supplement. Why not do all I can? In May 2011, one specialist in Austin suggested I get off of the medication for the summer and reevaluate. During my summer at camp (as a counselor), I ate very simple food (government-funded school meals). I stayed true to my supplements, I felt a lot more energetic, and I just felt at peace in my life.
In my last year at UT, in September of 2011, I was retested, and my testosterone levels were back to normal! I can attribute this to science, the idea that foods and hormones truly run my body or a fortunate coincidence, the aspect of misdiagnoses in either direction, but faith ultimately pulled me through. Regardless, I feel amazing, and I am still eating crap: fried chicken, BBQ, burgers. But, no soy. Absolutely no soy, if not in very minimal amounts i.e. soy sauce.