A hearty snack: How about ‘panic au chocolat’?

Life at university is highly stressful and panic eating can be seen as a solution, but does it become part of the problem?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The familiar taste hit me all at once. No, this isn’t a Proustian trip down memory lane, nor a meditation on the good small things in life and the large meaning one can infer from them. I ate no madeleine, I ate Ben and Jerry’s, and while, like Proust, I am a young man with (occasionally delusional) intellectual ambitions who writes mostly in his bed wearing pyjamas, unlike Proust I do not have a family heirloom – nor have I developed a talent for writing impressively long novels that many people claim to have read, but have never been seen doing so. My impressive feats thus far have been to consume not one, but four full tubs of different flavours of ice cream in the same day and waste an impressive amount of time watching random things on Netflix when I should be doing my essay. You relate, we know you do.

Food as a soother of stress and occasionally as an aid to procrastination seems to be part and parcel of student life. Chicken nuggets, chips – we all love chips – chocolate, biscuits and takeaway are all part of our vocabulary (especially during a hangover), but when indulging becomes habit, is it not the time to consider whether the coping mechanism is becoming a stressor? There are studies (too many of them) that show that junk food will have a negative effect on energy and contentment levels, as well as a negative impact on the performance of cognitive functions. We know that eating your greens is better, yet kale does not make me (or any sensible person) instantly feel better, whereas Blondie Brownie Caramel Core really does.

What may be just as important, considering the feelings of guilt attached to stress eating. We live in a culture that promotes and normalises specific bodies as desirable or ideal, and achieving them generally involves staying away from Ben and Jerrys. The idea of gaining weight (fat) comes with very little positive reinforcement. Becoming less desirable, less attractive and less healthy is what happens to us when we put on fat weight, or so the story goes. Meanwhile, when someone goes to a shop, they see magazines bodyshaming famous people (generally women) telling women the way to lose weight, and telling men the way to get a six-pack or fuller chest, whilst right next to them will be an assortment of chocolates, sweets, crisps and pretty much anything an average person would not eat regularly were they to attain the ideals they are supposed to (and bloody Instagram and social media is also very unhelpful).

People obviously don’t eat things because they are in front of them, or believe everything they read, but it is reasonable to think that people under psychological stress will be much more vulnerable to any form of substance or practice which provides them with comfort. We do have personal responsibility when it comes to what we choose to do (when we are making choices, naturally), but questioning why we make those choices, and being critical about why those are the choices available is just as meaningful and necessary

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