We all hear the same sob story three times a year: not enough sleep because of an all-nighter spent at Cal Poly’s legendary Robert E. Kennedy Library, too much stress and not enough time to do or think about anything other than studying. We get you have midterms.
The nights are long, and the reading assignments are even longer. However, these should not be reasons to give up a healthy, balanced diet.
There are two reasons why students eat more unhealthily during midterms: one is psychological and the other is physiological, food science and nutrition professor Lisa Nicholson said.
“Psychologically, a person is trying to self-comfort, and their mind goes to foods that they loved as a kid, such as macaroni and cheese or grilled-cheese sandwiches,” Nicholson said.
The need to self-comfort leads to the physiological symptom, which is stress, Nicholson said.
A stress hormone, cortisol, builds up with other adrenaline hormones, such as neurotransmitters, Nicholson said. Suddenly, the student is amped up, which leads to physiological hunger feelings.
When people are anxious, they go for a crunch factor, so that’s when students start snacking on chips, crackers and trail mix, STRIDE health ambassador coordinator Tianna Sheehan said.
“Celery sticks, carrots or healthy fats that are pre-proportioned, such as nuts, are better options,” Sheehan said.
Selections that are pre-packaged prevent students from overeating, but they can still get great nutrition from healthy fats, which your brain craves most of the time, Sheehan said.
The best way to get healthy food is to learn how to cook, Nicholson said. Otherwise, go where you can get the most whole foods.
Other than the library, students are accustomed to studying downtown at local coffee shops. Lucky for us, it is still possible to eat healthy, fulfilling food there.
Nicholson said Chipotle, in moderation, has a lot of good options if you want to eat downtown.
Adding beans, twice the salsa, light cheese and avocado, which is high in healthy fats for increased brain power, to a corn tortilla, is a good, healthy choice, Nicholson said.
A problem with eating healthy during midterms is the fact that students often lack sleep, which leads to a lack in motivation to choose healthy foods.
During the normal school year, food science senior Anna Bassett tries to get seven hours of sleep, she said. However, during midterms that number falls to five.
“I get up really early, have group projects, lab reports,” Bassett said. “I don’t get that much sleep. It’s hard.”
Sheehan said she doesn’t recommend staying up late, but rather starting work earlier in the day and going to sleep at night. There’s been too much research and evidence on the negative effects of sleep deprivation, she said.
Sometimes students stay up stressed out until 2 a.m., drinking coffee, Nicholson said.
“If you still need to stay awake, try switching to something like tea,” Nicholson said. “It has a little less caffeine, and you should try to taper it down a bit by the afternoon.”
Black tea has a little more caffeine than green tea, and green tea a little bit more than unfermented tea, Nicholson said.
Water is an often over-looked ingredient, Sheehan said. Water can help perk you up and give you more focus.
“Dehydration results in brain fog, so I would definitely say make sure you stay well-hydrated,” Sheehan said.
A lot of people turn to coffee or energy drinks, when an afternoon glass of water is what they need for that 3 p.m. slump, Sheehan said.
Let’s face it: midterms are a stressful time. However, eating healthy, making time to get in an extra hour of sleep and cutting down on caffeinated beverages can lead to the success you’ve been dreaming about for the first five weeks. Put down that Ben and Jerry’s, grab your hummus and get to work.