Welcome to the Ask a Dietitian column!

Over the course of the school year, our Registered Dietitians and dietetic interns get some deep questions regarding nutrition and food from students like you. We’ve noticed a trend in what people are interested in knowing more about, so we thought we’d post our answers for everyone to enjoy!

This month, we take on the topic of stress eating. Midterm season is in full swing, and you know what that means: lots of coffee, lots of studying, and lots of stress! Is coming home from the library at 11pm, binging on jelly beans, and forgetting to eat a balanced meal really all that bad if it’s only for a week or two? We’ve received loads of questions from students wondering just that.

Take a look at our response below and let us know what you think in the comments!

One student asks…

Dear Dietitian,

What can I do to prevent binge eating on junk food? Studying is hard, but trying to eat well during exam time is harder. Any tips?

There are several reasons you may find yourself eating too many unhealthy foods. To change this behaviour, it’s important to investigate the reason behind it! For example – is the excessive ‘junk food’ consumption related to not knowing what other foods to eat? Is it because you’re going for long periods of time without eating anything at all, or is it due to stress? The best way to identify why exactly you are eating these foods is to be more mindful and intuitive about your eating.

Mindful eating is eating with your focus centred on the food in front of you and the overall eating experience – this means that you are paying attention to eating with all of your senses: seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, and feeling. Life is busy (especially for a student!), and often times we find ourselves eating while doing other things, such as watching TV, studying, talking on the phone, or using the computer. Being more mindful of your choices can help you make some better selections.

It is also important to address what your current eating behaviours are. Often times, large portions of food are consumed when we haven’t eaten regularly throughout the day. Space out your meals and snacks evenly so that you are not going for extended periods of time (longer than 6 hours) without eating. Ideally, having something to eat every 3-4 hours (whether it is a meal or small snack) can help you avoid overeating later on in the day.

Try creating an environment where it is easier to reach for healthier options if you want to snack. If you know that there are certain unhealthy or ‘trigger’ items that you can’t seem to avoid, the best thing to do is to make sure they are not readily available to you. Sometimes this is out of your control (such as when you are in a restaurant or a friend’s house) but foods you have in your home can be controlled. Keep the healthy foods handy, and try carrying some healthy snacks in your backpack if you’re going to be on campus or out for the day.

Lastly, if you find that you’re still feeling hungry quite regularly throughout the day, it might mean that your meals and snacks need tweaking. Carbohydrates are great because they give us fuel, but if you’re not choosing the right carbs they don’t tend to stick with us for very long. High fibre foods keep us feeling more satiated throughout the day, and that means less likely to reach for unhealthy options. So try whipping up some snacks that are both high in fibre (such as apple chunks with hummus) and delicious!

To summarize, the key ideas behind reducing the excessive intake of unhealthy foods is to be more mindful when you are eating, eat more frequently throughout your day, and to create an environment that has healthier food options handy. I hope this information helps!

Remember: if you have some of your own questions to ask us, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at AskaDietitian@carleton.ca or visit https://dining.carleton.ca/nutrition/ask-a-dietitian/ and fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Friday, November 3, 2017 in ,
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