During finals season, I get pretty stressed. One side effect of this exam stress is how I seem to swing between wanting every bite of food on campus and wanting to skip every meal. Last week, I had 4 chocolate bars for dinner. Other days, I've hardly eaten at all.

I had no clue why my appetite fluctuated so much just because of stress, so I decided to do a little research and figure it out once and for all.

The Science Behind It

It turns out that there are two types of exam stress, and your body reacts to them differently. When you're very stressed at a specific point in time, like when your exam is about to start, your body goes into survival mode. The brain produces appetite-suppressing hormones, which would explain your upset stomach and skipped lunch.

However, during exam season your stress doesn’t only appear in the brief hours before and during your exam. If you find yourself stressed over the course of a few days, like many of us do as finals approach, your appetite could actually increase.

Sustained stress causes your brain to release a different hormone called cortisol, which not only makes you hungrier but actually makes you crave sugar and carbs.

It’s easy to understand why sustained stress translates into a craving for sugar and carbs when you imagine our ancestors trying to survive without food for long stretches of time. Things like carbs and sugar would've given them more fat and energy than other types of food.

In terms of exams, when you eat fatty, sugary foods, your brain reacts in the same way that it does to certain drugs. You're temporarily de-stressed and can sleep better or take a break without feeling the weight of exams on your shoulders. Overeating from exam stress is so easy to do because your brain is actually rewarding you for it.

So there you go—when you're in a high-stress situation, your body takes away your appetite, but when you have medium levels of stress over a longer period of time, your body makes you crave lots of junk food. 

If you want to avoid these cravings and eat healthier this exam season, try replacing your favourite snacks with healthy alternatives and eating foods that help reduce exam stress.

You could even sign up for a free care package from Spoon, courtesy of Chef'd, which is packed with healthy study snacks.

Now that you know why your appetite is a certain way depending on your exam stress, you can change your food intake depending on your stress and kick your finals in the butt. Good luck!