Finals, or any week with multiple tests, mean anything other than studying and breathing is suddenly not a priority. Healthy eating is no exception. As a pre-med student, it's important to me to correctly fuel my body so it helps fuel my brain and better prepares it to battle those pesky upcoming tests.
Though, realistically, in the midst of memorizing all 20 amino acids it’s so much easier to say “it’s okay, I’ll be healthy afterwards.” Not only do bad eating habits stick around longer than we expect, but wouldn’t you rather save those cheat days for hearty meals and sweets in the holiday season to come? Those treats will be much more enjoyable on the couch cuddled up with your cat than choking them down while your face is buried in a textbook.
I hope these tips can provide some easy and doable ways to improve your health during the finals season.
1. If caffeine is inevitable, make the smart choice on how you consume it.
Not all caffeine is created equal. One of the easiest ways to improve your health is to steer clear of high-calorie drinks because they usually mean one thing: sugar. Some of the biggest culprits are energy drinks and special coffee orders. The higher end of these being about 600 unhealthy calories in one serving.
Save those calories for actual food you’ll most likely eat later on to prevent high calorie consumption. Other drinks, such as plain coffee or tea, are not only cheaper but also have almost no calories. Chug it fast if you don’t care for the taste, then go rock out those flash cards.
2. Set food rules for yourself.
This is a good trick if you need structure in order to get anything done. Example rules are:
-No getting fast food/eating out
-Staying away from soda
-Not using the vending machine
-Buying only non-processed food
-No eating candy, chips, etc
-Eating twice a day if you’re prone to not eating
-Drinking two bottles of water a day
Set strict goals for yourself. It will help you stick with them. Personally, I find that not having the temptation around (i.e. not buying bad foods in the first place) is the best way I set rules for myself. Try not to be ambiguous with these rules or you may find yourself justifying ways to get around them (yeah, I’m talking to you).
3. Peer pressure also pertains to food—be social but be careful.
I don’t mean the peer pressure that teachers warn us about in middle school, but the social pressure that is way more contagious than any of us would like to admit. Imagine studying with friends: everyone’s mentally worn out, one is probably asleep in a corner, and then someone enthusiastically suggests going out to eat. All of a sudden, this sounds like the best idea anyone has ever had. We’ve all been there.
Next time this happens, just remember the consequences on your body. Nutritional food often means more energy and less susceptibility to being sick. When a friend or group loosely pressures you into eating unhealthily, just consider whether or not you would have made that choice on your own. You can always go out with friends and be social without buying anything. It’s not as awkward as it sounds, and your body will thank you later.
#SpoonTip: If your friends are done with finals and want to go out to celebrate but you still have one or two left—don’t go. You’ll only regret it later. Plan an even bigger celebration when you’re done and look forward to that instead.
4. If you have to be unhealthy...be the healthiest version you can be.
I know this seems contradicting, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Any fast food restaurant or boba place has some sort of spectrum of unhealthy to healthier food items on their menu. If you take a few moments, I’m sure you can figure out that a cookies and cream boba milkshake is going to be more detrimental to your health than that peach green tea. Going out can be a great stress relief, but it can also have very unhealthy temptations.
Scan the menu for a nice balance of calories and nutrients. Remember, calories don’t always have to be your enemy nor the sole thing you focus on. A taco salad packed with avocado, beans, and lettuce may have more calories than those cinnamon twists, but which do you think will fuel your body and mind most efficiently?
5. Plan ahead and don’t get trapped by convenience.
“Brooklynne, I have four finals and a paper due, do you honestly think I can plan anything more than making sure my laptop and textbooks are in my backpack?”
I do, and you should too. I know this can sound nearly impossible with everything else going on, but deep down you know it’ll pay off in the end. Pack your bag and bring food from home. Spoiler alert: it’ll also save you money...money that could go towards buying holiday gifts.
Try and get your hands on a bulk package of granola bars or portable fruit. Invest in one of those thermos containers for some warm vegetable soup. A PB&J, a forever classic, not only contains healthy fats and protein but is also a cheap and filling option. I mean heck, pack six of them for various meals or share them with friends.
The key is to find what works for you. I personally find it easier to prepare food at night so I can just head out in the morning. When you don’t have any food on you and you’re stressed out, you’re almost guaranteed to pick whatever is the most convenient. Try not to get stuck in this trap by being prepared.
I know it can be difficult to focus on anything other than your exams and essays, but small changes and improvements to your typical high-stress diet can go a long way. Good luck on your finals, have a great holiday, and remember to take care of your body— it’s the only one you've got.