No one wants to put on the Freshman Fifteen and no one wants to pull all-nighters studying, but, unfortunately, these two go hand-in-hand in college. Late night studying lends itself to unhealthy options from vending machines and pizza delivery.
The unhealthy temptations continue into the next day too; when you’re exhausted from staying up your body will crave carbohydrates to help you sleep. You can do something about this.
Below you can read a list of 11 tips for healthier eating while staying up late to study put together by SUNY at Buffalo for its students.
- Eat regularly throughout the day - Do you miss lunch, squeeze in a quick snack between classes and then find yourself parked in front of your refrigerator at 10pm? Your body would prefer to get energy when it needs it, which is all day, rather than fill up at the end of the day. Bring food with you! Try to eat every 5 hours or so, and have a light snack for late night studying.
- Don’t keep “junk food” around. Chips, dips and candy don’t just “appear” magically in your food cupboard. One reason you snack on junk is because you made the choice to buy it and bring it home! Change your environment, change what you eat.
- Choose smart snacks. If you’re hungry, eat. But especially if it’s late at night, you’ll quickly add calories if you’re choosing candy, ice cream, wings, chicken finger subs, etc. Keep plenty of healthier, lower calorie foods around for when you’re a little hungry (fruit, cereal, whole grain crackers, low fat cheese, yogurt, soup, etc.)
- Get physical during study breaks - physical activity, even a short 5 minute walk, can increase oxygen to your brain, get your blood flowing again, and help you refocus on studying. Don’t eat food to stay awake.
- Take snack breaks rather than eat continuously. Everyone is different, but for grazers, it’s easy to eat a lot more calories than you’re aware of because you’re focusing more on the mental challenge and the words on the page, rather than sensing if you’re still hungry or tasting the food. Eating mindfully without distraction may make you feel more satisfied.
- Portion snacks and meals - if you grab from the bag, the bag may be empty before you realize it. Serve snacks in a bowl or on a plate and put them away. A very large meal, more than 400 or 500 calories, will likely interfere with your studying by pulling blood to your stomach rather than your brain.
- Protein foods may help you stay alert. Eating a meal high in protein may help you feel more alert and motivated. Examples of high protein foods: lean meat, beans, lentils, low fat dairy, soy foods, high-protein snack bars, nuts (~2-4 Tbs). Excess carbohydrates may help us relax and feel sleepy.
- Include fluid, and be aware of the calories. Not only will you stay hydrated, you’ll get a movement break by visiting the restroom. Sometimes we reach for food when we’re thirsty. If you’re dehydrated, you may find yourself prone to crave grapes or other watery foods. Make sure you get a minimum of 2 quarts a day, more if you’re active or in hot weather. Avoid excess caffeine (>2 cups) as it may affect the quality of your sleep.
- Avoid eating right before bedtime. Try to have your last snack at least 2 hours before going to bed. A large snack or meal right before sleep means your body is working on digesting that meal during the night, rather than resting and repairing other tissues. This interferes with the quality of your sleep and you may wake feeling tired. It’s also unlikely you need that energy at that time of the night, and usually our choices are sloppier when we’re tired, both of which may contribute to weight gain.
- Hot foods, hot liquids - hot foods tend to make us feel more satisfied, and steaming hot foods are hard to eat quickly. Try bringing instant soup or instant oatmeal with you. Know where the microwaves are on campus to heat up a quick snack or meal.
- Limit sedentary time. Any form of exercise while you watch tv can help add activity to your day when you’re short on time, but may also keep you from snacking, as the TV easily lures us to eat with constant food commercials. If you watch TV for several hours a day because you’re bored, consider adding some other activities to your night life.