It’s exam time and learners and students are under pressure. Most students might not eat well enough, while others will turn to stress-eating to get them through this tough time.
Many students’ go-to snacks during examination season are a cup of coffee, cookies, or chocolates.
Health For Mzansi spoke to a few students to find out how they cope with stress and what their eating habits are during exam time, while a dietitian gave guidelines and tips on how to cope, what to eat and what to avoid.
Exercise and water are the best options!
Sinelizwi Peter, a second-year student at Fort Cox College in the Eastern Cape, believes that her regular daytime meals can be beneficial for her during the night and examination times.
She adds that since she is a student studying away from home, she rarely has the opportunity to have snacks, but she still takes time to work out and consume enough of water to stay alert and focused.
She asserts that she studies in advance to avoid feeling pressed for time the night before examinations and to ensure that she gets a good night’s sleep.
Yoga serves as a form of therapy
Thandiswa Mpongolwana, a second-year student at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), shares that yoga is her go-to technique for lifting her spirits.
Exams can be daunting and cause her to feel uneasy, she says. However, by choosing to exercise, whether it be through yoga or skipping rope, she can effectively manage her anxiety.
“Before I begin studying, I make sure to eat a nutritious, balanced dinner,” she says.
Mpongolwana adds that she also gives herself a break when she feels overwhelmed or tired. “I take regular breaks to rest my brain. Even a little break of five to ten minutes can help me feel more focused and awake.”
Music is her best medicine
Sesona Joko, a matriculant at Ekuphumleni High School in Whittlesea in the Eastern Cape, believes that time management is crucial for her daily routine.
“I eat fruit and vegetables and drink a lot of water to help my brain function during the exam period. This helps me stay focused.”
This includes knowing when to study, when to take breaks, when to have a snack, and when to sleep.
She avoids caffeine as it blocks her from falling asleep when she needs to rest, she explains.
Joko further states that she relies on music during her breaks to motivate and inspire her during exam time.
Learn how to eat properly
According to Nathalie Mat, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (Adsa), it is important to keep in mind that your brain relies on the energy that comes from the food you consume to maintain focus and effectively absorb new information.
When it comes to exercise and healthy eating, she says it’s best to adopt a balanced approach.
She explains, “When our blood sugar control is smooth as silk, meaning no sugar highs followed by lows, we’re able to keep laser-like focus for longer.”
While caffeine and energy drinks may provide a temporary mental boost, they are not optimal sources of nourishment and do not fuel our brains. Caffeine use can interfere with sleep, reducing focus and learning, according to Mat.
“What we eat (and drink) impacts our ability to think clearly and concentrate for long periods. Fuelling your brain well will help you excel!”
Speciality diets are not advised
Mat suggests a balanced breakfast that contains some high-fibre starchy foods like wholegrain cereals, wholegrain bread, and starchy vegetables, as well as some protein-rich foods (eggs, skinless chicken, beans, cheese, and fish) and vegetables.
Balanced meals, she states, will maintain energy levels and focus steady throughout the day.
“Students who eat breakfast tend to perform better academically, so I would avoid intermittent fasting while studying.”
She advises limiting sugary or processed meal selections, considering they are more likely to increase your blood sugar, resulting in less constant energy and focus levels.
She also mentions that too much caffeine and drinking coffee too late can interfere with sleep.
Mat, provides three top tips for healthy eating for healthy results during exam time:
- Choose water as your drink of choice. Limit sweetened beverages and please moderate alcohol intake.
- Eat fresh produce daily. South Africans generally do not eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables – [including] fresh produce that is in season and available. These just happen to be the cheapest and most nutritious too.
- Eat unhealthy foods in moderation – sure french fries can fit into a balanced diet, just don’t eat them all the time. If 80% of your meal choices are healthy, the 20% will not make a big difference to your health!
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