Tips to Avoid Over-Eating During Finals

Ideally, plan your meals and strive for balance. Realistically, just try and eat a vegetable at some point.

By Alina Shaikh, University of Toronto


To binge or not to binge?

It’s the question on almost every student’s mind when they’re given a free pass to pile their plates high in the dining hall. There’s a kind of all-expenses-paid euphoria that kicks in after you realize the meal plan is included in your residence fees, and that’s the exact moment we stress-eaters truly live for.

I decided to see how exactly I, the notorious foodie–the person making deals in their flat with grad students for slow cooker recipes–would deal with the temptation to stress eat if I lived on campus.

Whether it was to “get back” at big corporations or to just see what on-campus dorming was like, I slept over at a friend’s place during exam week. In doing so, I was finally exposed to dining hall food in all its splendor, and subsequently gained that freshman 15 I’ve always been curious about.

A Stress-Eater’s Guide to Getting Through Exam Week

You don’t have to be the posterchild of Healthy Living 101 to know that stress eating isn’t something you should disregard. Stress eating is a distorted version of emotional catharsis, as opposed to a healthy version of mindful consumption. The difference between those two mindsets can grow to mean the world to your body, your mental health and the habits you form as grow up.

Knowing the temptation to overeat affects pretty much everyone at some point, I was ready for the challenge. The thing is, when you’re faced with a variety of foods and no foreseeable end to it all, it’s hard to stop eating.

One of the best techniques for combatting stress eating (besides passing up your meal card for a grocery membership) is to control your portion sizes.

With exams coming up, a small plate of croissants this morning could be balanced with a plate of veggies at noon and then proteins in the evening—not limiting yourself per say, but making a conscious effort to get your nutritional balance up to par.

During finals, a time of gradually increasing stress, it’s easy to pile all your problems onto your plate and eat your heart out, one impossible exam to the next. The best thing I’ve learned from this week, however, is that it’s not totally unrealistic to find a method that curbs your appetite and satisfies your cravings.

Besides portion control and sneaky ways to get your daily dose of food-pyramid goodness, proper timing is another one of those major eating rules we dismiss during testing hell. All those 3 a.m. PB&Js aren’t helping anyone here.

Unfortunately, erratic eating actually disrupts your digestive cycle and causes weird pangs of hunger at odd times (breakfast at 2 p.m. anyone?), which will most definitely ruin your sleeping schedule, not to mention your social life. Is it really an outing with friends if you don’t eat? Is it an outing at all if you don’t post it on Insta? To both those questions: No, not really.

Do yourself a favor and eat like a normal person, even if you have to stash bring a few lunches to the library and scarf them down like you’re committing a crime.

You’ll be able to keep your energy throughout the day, and can continue pretending that you’re living a stable lifestyle throughout your responsible young-adult years. A set breakfast, lunch and dinner is usually preferred over the small-meals-throughout-the-day method, but the latter works too if you have a more active routine.

Plenty of stress-eaters just feel as if they need to be doing something while passively sitting down and working on an activity.

Whether it’s rewriting your notes, studying from the textbook or watching that Chinese drama during your breaks, if you ever feel as if you should be eating when you’re most definitely full, you may need to think on your habits. Always snapping your gum, rolling around candy or chewing a Twizzler? Oral fixations are real and out there in the world, and you should probably chill with the gum popping if you have any roommates (they’ll secretly hate you).

Essentially, stress-eating stems from a much bigger problem; misdirecting your emotions into carbs and fats increases your dopamine response, sure, but you could be channeling your time and energy into something worthwhile.

Working out, drinking some tea and getting some studying done before the deadline are ways to put off the stress in a healthy, sustainable manner. Simple tricks like filling yourself up on water, taking frequent naps or even a little meditation may work wonders for avoiding those trips to the fridge at unholy hours of the night.

Make exam season even more worthwhile by rewarding yourself every 3-4 hours, packing cravable foods into a meal with other eats that scream “positive reinforcement,” and do try to remember these tips when the final grades roll in.