Exam and Stress Eating

With the exam still looming over the heads of many students I want to focus on what to eat during this stressful time. I have just finished my last exam and I recall the countless times I've read "Just had a whole box of chocolates while studying.... oops..." on Facebook or twitter (Even from future dietitians!). It's so easy to over indulge and eating healthy is often the last thing any student thinks about! Here are my top 7 tips to stay healthy during exams:

1. Keep healthy snacks available   

This is my number one tip since snacking can be very rampant during this time. If there's a chocolate bar in the pantry at 2am in the morning and you're feeling hungry chances are that's what you'll have. Make sure healthy food is in plain sight by having a fruit bowl in the kitchen so when you go to the kitchen that's the first thing you see!  In line with this, don't have unhealthy food within arms reach of where you're studying, just looking at it all day can drive anyone to eat it!

In the pantry: Put all the chips, chocolates, biscuits etc on the top or bottom shelf where it's not as readily visible. Instead have foods such as wholegrain muesli bars (preferably low fat and not too sugary!), salt reduced crackers, nuts, baked beans, cereal, Milo, air popped popcorn etc available at eye level.

In the fridge: fresh fruits and vegetables are the way to go but not always practical! If you know dinner will be healthy cook extra so you can leave a portion in the fridge to have late at night. Dairy foods such as yoghurt, cheese and milk are also very easy to grab and eat without much preparation but make sure they're low fat if you're eating a lot throughout the day! Dip is so great to have that goes with crackers, vegetables and fruit. Try to choose dips such as hummus, tahini or vegetable based dips that is low salt and fat.

2. Portion control 
It's easy to eat through a whole packet of chips while studying without realising. Mindless eating occurs often in everyday life but especially so during stressful exams. Instead of bringing whole packets of food to the study table, portion out how much to eat into a separate plate or bowl and put the rest away. This applies especially to nuts as the calories can really add up.

3. Have a balance of sweet and savoury snacks available 
Most people tend to feel quite peckish when studying. One minute you might be thinking of a succulent burger and the next some ice cream. Having snacks such as fruit AND nuts available ensures you don't end up eating chips just because you don't feel like something sweet or eating chocolate because there was no fruit available to satisfy your sweet tooth.     

4. Have water 
Often students don't wander to the kitchen because of hunger but rather boredom or to have a little stretch! Have some water instead of more food. Often dehydration can cause headaches which can hinder studying so aim for 6-8 cups of water a day. A nice glass of water with a few ice cubes could be the cold wake up call you need! Skip out on the energy drinks as they are often loaded with sugar. If caffeine is essential try a nice comforting tea this winter instead.

5. Take a break. 
Sometimes it's therapeutic to just take a break from studying and cook up something to eat. If you like experimenting in the kitchen why not ditch the cupcake recipe for flaxseed brownies? There are many healthy recipe sites out there for you to try!

6. Go for a walk
Going for a walk will help clear your head, keep you alert and a little exercise won't hurt! However did you know it may also improve your immune function? Vitamin D is produced in the skin as a result of exposure to UV light from the sun. It has to be one of the most exciting vitamins lately as research is discovering more roles it has in the body. One of them is its role in immune function and Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with the flu during winter. With the current rainy season in Sydney this may be a bit difficult so save this advice for when the sun comes out ;).   

7. Don't let your exams sabotage your diet

Exams aren't for very long so what's the harm in forgetting the diet you say? Exam stress has been linked to decreased immune function in some small studies of students sitting exams and no one wants to get sick while studying! A healthy diet is important in making sure your body is in the best condition to fight off and clear infections. This can be achieved by having a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, healthy fats and meat and/or alternatives. This ensures all those vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are keeping you feeling the best you can during stress.  Also please remember to EAT as I know some people may get so caught up in study they forget. Schedule eating 3 meals a day into your schedule if that will remind you to eat!

What can parents do?
It's difficult trying to figure out how to be encouraging and supportive as a parent when students shut themselves off into their rooms. Buy healthy food to put in the fridge and prepare easy to eat foods such as soups, salads and stir fries for their meals. Prepare foods to make it easier for them to choose them! This can include cutting up fruits such as oranges and apples, making fruit salad or putting some nuts in bowls for them. Exam days can be stressful so ensure they have breakfast and something to eat before the exam.
Let me know what are your favourite healthy snack ideas during stressful times in the comments below! Or alternatively what do you end up indulging on?

Good luck to those still doing their exams!


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The information presented on this blog acts as general nutrition advice and is not tailored to meet individual needs. It should not be used as a replacement for any medical advice you have recieved from medical practitioners. Please discuss any concerns for your health with your doctor or Accredited Practicing Dietitian before starting a new dietary or exercise regime as they can give more personalised recommendations.

I make every effort to ensure information on Nutrition with Wendy is correct and up to date however nutrition is an evolving field and discrepancies can arise. If the information here appears incorrect or out of date please let me know and I will do my best to update my posts.