Food is a very essential part of our day to day life and hence it really should not come as a surprise that it can affect the way we perform in our exams. Whenever one is stressed, we reach out for comfort food. So it really is not surprising that during exams, we tend to consume a high quantity of unhealthy food. Quite evidently, this is actually not the smartest lifestyle to be adopted during those stressful, demanding times.
The key is to design a diet in a way which enhances our concentration levels, does not let hunger distract us from our main goal, and prevents us from sliding into our comfy bed, taking the occasional ‘nap’.
Our food and our brain do have a connection. Do we not feel more hungry when we study for long periods of time? Just like exercising burns calories and takes up energy, studying for prolonged hours makes us hungry because it is like exercise for the brain.
Why do students eat unhealthy food when stressed?
- Fight-or-flight response – When faced with stress, our body’s fight-or-flight response gets triggered. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles become tense and your digestive system shuts down. When in fight-or-flight, your focus is either on attacking your stress object or running away from it.
- Secretion of the Stress Hormone: After the initial fight-or-flight response, your body follows this up with a slower response. Your body secretes the stress hormone known as cortisol, which enables your body to use energy more efficiently by producing more glucose and burning up fat.
Now if we put the pieces together, we can understand why our body craves all that junk food when we are stressed and have loads of things to do.
You are what you Eat
As the saying goes, what we consume affects us more than we realize. Research and studies over the years have proven that some foods increase the cognitive function of our brain and boost our memory. A recent study done in Australia showed that a good, smart diet had increased literacy rates and numeric scores over the years.
Now that we think about it, most countries with a higher average IQ are the ones which have inherently healthy food as a part of their day to day diet.
How to enhance performance?
Here are some ways to enhance your performance by altering your diet during exams :
- Eating five to six meals a day has always been a smart thing to do, instead of having one heavy meal. This is true because heavy meals take up more energy to be broken down and digested and that can exhaust us very quickly, which in turn can take a toll on our concentration levels.
- Water– Loads and loads of water. Water helps us stay awake and keeps our body fresh. Dehydration causes loss of energy and diverts our mind from the task at hand.
- Brain Blocking foods– Yes, their effect is in their name. Cookies, cakes, and muffins require added time and energy to digest. Food high in refined sugar, such as chocolates, desserts, and sweets along with carbohydrates such as rice or potatoes can make you feel heavy and sleepy.
- Junk and oily food – This point cannot be stressed on enough. During exams, a lot of people have a habit of munching on snacks all the time. Junk food provides absolutely negative nutrition to our body and mind. It’s a smarter move to consume fruits during these times.
- Some foods are termed as “Brain boosting foods”. Protein-rich foods that help in mental alertness are eggs, nuts, yoghurt, cottage cheese, etc.
- For breakfast, take almonds, walnuts, raisins, oranges, bananas and whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. Toast with jam, porridge, oatmeal, or sugar-free muesli also works.
- A diet rich in omega-3 fats is a must. These fats are heart-protective and play an important role in memory and concentration. Sources of omega-3 fats in the diet are oily fish like salmon, tuna, seeds like flax, chia, melon seeds and sunflower.