The Science Behind Your Finals Week Diet


For me, just about everything that isn’t school-related takes a hit during finals week, including my eating habits. I essentially follow my seven-year-old self’s dream diet: lots of late night snacking, frequent candy runs, and roughly 50% of my daily caloric intake comes from free cookies. And while I know that these aren’t the healthiest choices, I give myself a pass during these stressful days. I’m working my butt off, so I think I deserve some treats. And while I know that I probably shouldn’t eat late at night, I figure there’s no harm in doing it every once in a while. After all, I’m young, and still at that age where I can “bounce back” relatively quickly.

The truth is, unless there’s hard science out there proving that the occasional cookie-binge will inevitably lead to a sudden, painful death in my 30s, changing up my finals week diet isn’t going to be my #1 priority. That said, I think there’s something to be said for learning the how and why of these crunch-time cravings, as well as understanding the consequences of my decisions. Also, I’m a nerd, and can’t pass up an opportunity to share some dorky, food-related facts. Go figure.

So, what’s making me crave cupcakes during finals week? The same thing that catapulted Baby Bash’s career back in 2003: “Suga, suga.”

Sugar increases the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, which makes us feel happy, relaxed, and sometimes sleepy. So, when it’s 2 a.m. and you’re wrapping up a 15-page research paper that counts for 80% of your grade, odds are you’re jonesing for Insomnia Cookies not because you’re hungry, but because your brain is sad and it wants to snuggle up with some serotonin. And while I think that we should all strive to lead healthy lives, I also believe that your poor old brain might just deserve a little neurotransmitter hug. Just don’t make a habit of it.

Also, you probably shouldn’t eat those cookies too close to bedtime. I know what you’re thinking, “But Brooke, they increase serotonin, and you said in your last article that serotonin can make you sleepy. What gives?” First of all, thanks for reading my last article! And secondly, yes, serotonin can make you sleepy, but eating big meals of anything before bed can end up doing you more harm than good. According to Men’s Health, the calories you eat right before bed are more likely to be stored as fat. Also, a big meal before bed can lead to less restful, even disruptive sleep, and honey – we both know that you do not want to mess with your sleep more than you have to during finals week. So if you’re going to Insomnia Cookies, maybe just get one instead of splurging on their “Sugar Rush”, and if you’re one of those “disciplined” types, try to satisfy your munchies with one of the snacks that Men’s Health recommends in the aforementioned link.

So, friend, do what you will with this information. I personally don’t believe in following super acetic diets, and am all for the occasional indulgence. However, I think that you might find that learning that your stress-induced sugar-cravings are just that, they might be easier to resist.

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