By Carleigh Reynolds
Hello, Ravens! It’s me, Carleigh, your campus Food Ambassador, resident food blogger, Instagram enthusiast, et cetera. I’m reporting to you live about the only thing that matters: lunch.
The exam period is upon us. I’m currently writing this amidst a pile of study notes, textbooks, and discarded granola bar wrappers, during a late night library session. I don’t know about you guys, but finals are hitting me hard. Finishing a semester is quite difficult when you have to manage two essays, a group presentation, and five courses worth of lecture notes, not to mention a mountain of laundry, several hundred unread emails, summer job applications, and coordinating holiday break plans. It’s on days like these that I either forget to make time to grab lunch or end up stress-eating my weight in cookies. Since for the next while I will be tempted to engage in cramming, both study notes and snacks into my mouth, I figured I should get better informed on how to effectively manage food and stress during exam time. For answers, I sat down with Dining Services’ two dietitians, Jane Skapinker and Holly Sharpe.
Carleigh: What is your role at Dining Services?
Holly: I’m a dietitian and I started here in August of this year. My role includes meeting with students individually to talk about their dietary needs, work through their dietary restrictions, or just help them learn healthy eating. I also make sure the menu is nutritionally balanced.Jane: I’ve been with Dining Services for about three years. I started off as a dietitian as well. Though I am still a dietitian, my role has broadened in the past few months to include working on engagement activities around campus that are about improving the student experience. So it has become broader in scope, but nutrition, health, and wellness are still the focuses of my job.
Carleigh: Exams are happening! How does activity in residence and on campus change during this time?
Jane: Things definitely get a little gloomy and sad. Students withdraw a little bit from the activities on campus. We see that our dine-in times tend to be a little bit shorter because students are a lot busier. They are either not coming in as often, or coming in with a textbook and quickly eating and leaving. We want to make sure that students are staying nutritionally balanced during this busy time because food has such an effect on their health.
Carleigh: What contributes to student stress?
Holly: I was a student quite recently. This time of year, a lot of students are cramming for exams and studying a lot, which could lead to a lack of sleep. Not sleeping enough can make you more irritable because you’re not feeling your best. Also, living in residence or living with a roommate is a completely new environment for a lot of students. Any change of routine will also lead to stress.
Carleigh: What can students do to reduce stress around this time of year?
Holly: In terms of lack of sleep, we need to try to remind ourselves to get as much sleep as possible. Create a routine where you are shutting off all of your devices and dimming the lights before going to bed to get your body ready to sleep. Exercise can also help reduce stress. It’s great for our bodies and gives us endorphins to keep us happy. Studying can make people extremely isolated, so opening up to friends or planning a study group can help as well.
Jane: Residence has such a wealth of resources for students. Students can go see counsellors, or participate in organized stress buster activities. If students are comfortable stepping out of their own personal strategies, there are a lot of things here to help and guide them. In terms of personal strategies, remembering to eat and drink water is so important. During stressful times, people forget to do things that are otherwise so easy and obvious.
Carleigh: Are there any eating habits that can reduce stress?
Holly: Just try to keep an as normal of an eating routine as possible, whatever ‘normal’ means to you. So that’s including three meals a day and having snacks in between so you don’t get too hungry or irritable, and staying hydrated so your brain doesn’t get foggy. Also make meals a fun, social time by cooking and eating with your roommates or family.
Jane: Appetite tends to be controlled by, or linked to, your emotions. Sometimes students might eat their feelings, or the opposite. People may even experience some kind of superficial digestive ailments because stress is connected to all of the systems in our bodies. So in a time of stress, it’s important to not adopt brand new eating habits because you don’t know how your body will react. But at the same time, you need to make sure that you’re getting all of the foods that will make you feel great and healthy.
Carleigh: Are there any foods that students should avoid during exam time?
Holly: Stick to what you know. This is not the time of year to get super crazy and experiment with your meals. Stick to the comforting foods that you know work for you and your body.
Jane: Certain foods like chocolate and coffee will affect neurotransmitters and hormones in your body. Don’t overdo them right before an exam.
Carleigh: What should you eat the night before an exam and what should you eat the morning of an exam?
Holly: The night before an exam, have something you enjoy. Have a comfort meal. You’re already stressed enough the night before; so don’t add to the stress by eating something that you don’t like. In terms of the morning of, I’d suggest having a breakfast that includes a complex carbohydrate. It could be oatmeal or some whole grain toast with peanut butter and jam. Those items will provide your brain with glucose to use as energy. You should include a protein source like an egg or a glass of milk, so you don’t get too hungry during a long exam. Also, stay hydrated and have regular sips of water leading up to, and during, the exam.
Carleigh: What else should students be doing to manage mental health?
Jane: Everybody has their one vice that really helps them. I think it’s so important during exam time to do activities that make you feel good. It could be as simple as meditating for two minutes. For someone else, it could be re-watching an old episode of a show that they love. Remember, in the grand scheme of things, five minutes is not going to make any difference in whether you will pass or fail an exam. But taking five minutes to yourself will make a big difference in the way that you feel. It’s okay to have some ‘me time’ that is not dedicated to your career or academic goals.
Carleigh: Exams take a lot out of you. What should students do to recover from an exam?
Holly: After an exam is a great time to zone in on yourself and check in with how you’re feeling. Suddenly you have this stress lifted off of you. It’s a nice time to take stock of how you’re doing and see if there’s something that you need. This could be a great night sleep or eating the vegetables and fruits that you may have skipped out on leading up to the exam.
Carleigh: Do you have any study tips for the first years that are tackling exams for the first time?
Jane: The thing with productivity is that people stop being productive after a certain amount of time, of doing the exact same activity, in the exact same environment. It’s important to know your own threshold. If you know that you’re a hundred percent productive for three hours and for the next two hours you’re kind of doing nothing, you need to insert a half hour dedicated to closing your book and recharging, before going back to it. When I was in school, how I studied in first year was very different from how I studied in my final year. You’ll learn what strategies work for you as time goes by.
Have questions about nutrition? Reach out to Jane or Holly through the Ask a Dietitian program about anything from navigating weight management, to the effects of specific vitamins, to the nutritional content of menu items.
Feeling enlightened? Or just hungry? Feel free to connect with me to share your thoughts and follow my food journey on Instagram.
Good luck on exams, Ravens!
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