Washington: While it becomes almost impossible to suppress those junk food cravings during university examinations, submitting to these cravings might not be the best thing to do. According to the recent study, increased stress during university examinations is associated with eating a poorer quality diet including less fruit and vegetables and more fast food.
“Stress has long been implicated in a poor diet. People tend to report overeating and comfort eating foods high in fat, sugar, and calories in times of stress. Our findings looking at the eating habits of students during exam periods confirm this stress-induced dietary deterioration hypothesis,” said Nathalie Michels, lead researcher of the study.
According to the researchers, a healthy diet is needed for optimal academic and mental performance.
“Unfortunately, our findings suggest that students have difficulties eating healthily and find themselves adopting
bad eating habits, which over a few weeks can considerably affect your overall health and be difficult to change,” Michels asserted.
As part of the study, the researchers investigated the relationship between exam stress and change in dietary quality, and whether these associations were modified by psychosocial factors such as eating behavior (emotional/external/restrained), food choice motive, taste preference, reward/punishment sensitivity, impulsivity, coping strategies, sedentary behavior, and social support.
During the month-long exam period, participants found it harder to stick to a healthy diet, and only a quarter fulfilled the WHO recommended 400g of fruit and vegetables a day. What is more, students reporting higher levels of stress tended to snack more often.
The findings suggest that emotional eaters (who eat in response to negative emotions), external eaters (who eat in response to the sight or smell of food), sweet/fat lovers, people who are highly motivated by health (with health as a food choice motive), sensitive to reward and punishment, highly sedentary, and with higher stress levels are at greatest risk of making unhealthy food choices during this stressful time.
According to the researchers, to fight against stress-induced eating, prevention strategies should integrate psychological and lifestyle aspects including stress management (eg, emotion regulation training, mindfulness, yoga), nutritional education with techniques for self-effectiveness, awareness of eating-without-hunger, and creating an environment that stimulates a healthy diet and physical activity.