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Exam Eating

How to cope with emotional/disordering eating during stressful periods.

We all know how stressful the exam and revision periods can be, and since first year, I have really struggled with my eating while in the midst of this. The stress of exams and the work leading up to them really messed up my eating routine, and a lot of the time I was either emotionally over-eating or completely restricting myself.  I can tell you now that it did no good for me at all – I was either consumed with anxiety about my weight gain, or I was exhausted and grumpy because I wasn’t giving my body what it needed.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at taking care of my mind and body during stressful times, so I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve picked up for anybody who might be struggling with the same problem. 

Photo: @laurathomasphd

About a year ago, I discovered intuitive eating, and it changed my attitude towards food for good.  It helped me finally reject diet culture and fully respect my hunger and fullness cues; my body never thanked me more for finally giving it the right nourishment it needed, and mentally I’ve never felt more at peace with my body.  It isn’t just about ‘eating what you want when you want’ either, as some people might think.  I learnt about the concept from the body positive community, and a post from @laurathomasphd really helped to spell it out:

It starts with rejecting the diet mentality. Diets don’t work 95% of the time, and that they mostly just cause extreme negative self-esteem, not to mention they destroy your relationship with food.

The next step is about honouring your hunger and recognising what your body is trying to tell you.  For people who struggle with eating, Dr Thomas says people normally only recognise being absolutely starving or totally stuffed.  But hunger is a lot more nuanced than that, and it’s important that we respect what our body is trying to tell us.  That means we have to challenge the ‘food police’ – that voice in our heads that says ‘you shouldn’t eat that’ or tries to persuade you to ‘earn’ a meal.  That voice doesn’t dictate what’s good for you and your body.

Photo: @laurathomsonphd

I think the next step is one of the most important: making peace with food.  A pizza doesn’t make you an awful person, and gluten, dairy and sugar aren’t something to be afraid of (except if you’re allergic).  It’s a long process of trying to trust your body again, and with time, you can come to make peace with your body and the food that nourishes it.  Making peace also helps you to stop eating when you truly feel full.  It’s about knowing that food IS available to you and that its okay to eat; you don’t have to overeat because it’s going to be a long time before you’re allowed to eat again.

Making peace with food will help you feel satisfied a lot easier. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve mindlessly ate while studying or watching Netflix without even paying attention to what I was eating, let alone enjoy it.  We are allowed to feel satisfaction by the food that we eat and allow it to nourish our body and mind properly.  I’ve felt too that, since learning to know when I’m truly hungry, what I want to eat and feeling satisfied while eating, I’m able to eat a balanced range of foods without causing me unnecessary anxiety and stress.  I can enjoy a hearty meal with vegetables and nutrients, but also chow down on snacks or dessert without letting it negatively affect my mental state.

Since making peace with food and eating, my mind has felt so much clearer, which makes the revision period so much easier to handle. I can energise myself properly and face my studies with the right sort of food that my body needs, whether it be ‘healthy’ or not.  It’s thanks to intuitive eating that I can do all this, and I stand by it.

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