“Eating greasy food out of plastic” by Lars Ploughmann is licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0
When classes at Western Illinois University are in session, senior, Christie Millay leaves her room in Grote Hall before 10 a.m. and does not return home for nearly 12 hours.
Millay experiences the typical college student’s busy schedule on a daily basis.
With meetings, classes, and hours spent in the library working on homework, Millay admits that she puts off eating regularly.
“When I am at Western during the school year, I can only eat at night—late night—because I have so many meetings,” said Millay.
There are three dining halls at Western Illinois University where students —with meal plans—can purchase food and drinks with a simple swipe.
The only problem is that the dining halls at WIU close fairly early on weekdays. Corbin/ Olson and Bayless/ Henninger Dining Centers close at 7 p.m., whereas Thompson Dining Center stays open an extra hour—until 8 p.m.
Most students’ schedules run later than 8 p.m. on weekdays—therefore, many students miss the opportunity to eat dinner in the dining centers.
By the time these busy students return to their resident halls, the only option for food is either what they have in their pantries (if anything), or what is available from the convenience stores on campus.
“I usually resort to eating a sandwich or chicken wings from the c-store—I usually eat at 11 p.m.,” said Millay
Students with busy schedules may be missing out on eating nutritious foods. An inconsistent eating schedule can really sabotage one’s health.
Amanda Divin Ph. D., an Assistant Professor in Western Illinois University’s Department of Health Sciences, said that eating close to bedtime can have negative effects on one’s well-being.
Divin said, “Eating late at night is not necessarily bad—eating too close to the time when one falls asleep is what can be harmful to the body.”
In other words, if a student typically eats dinner at 9 p.m., but then stays awake for two or three hours afterwards, the body will have enough time to digest, and therefore, will not suffer the consequences that one would with eating just one hour—or less—before bed.
In a similar notion, a person should still be conscious of what he/she consumes close to bedtime.
“One of the biggest issues that is seen with late-night eating is that people tend to overeat later in the day. When the body feels tired, a person loses will-power. The less will-power one has, the more likely he/she is to overeat. Late at night, people are likely to choose comfort foods which are higher in fat, calories, and sodium…” said Divin.
Another student, Kaylee McAllister said, “I don’t eat breakfast or lunch during the day. I typically have a few snacks throughout the day, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to sit down for dinner.”
When McAllister does eat dinner, she says that it usually consists of PB&J sandwiches, pizza, or chicken (quick options from the c-stores).
“Not eating all day essentially puts one’s body in starvation mode, so people will be very rabinous when they finally sit down to eat,” said Divin.
McAllister often prioritizes other commitments over eating because she says she is too busy to think about eating.
“I stay up late working on projects or sending emails, so I rarely eat. If I happen to be in the union for a late-night meeting, I’ll get something from Burger King because it is the only place open on campus that serves food late,” said McAllister.
According to Divin, there are various negative side effects that are affiliated with eating too close to bedtime—heartburn, weight gain, nightmares, type 2 diabetes, and incongruent sleep patterns are likely.
“When a person eats a huge meal at one time, the body has to start sorting through the food and break it down into the blood stream to be used for energy. If a person is eating too close to falling asleep, the food will be converted to, and stored as fat (rather than having the food used for daily activity). The last I checked, not many people want to have more fat,” said Divin.
According to Divin, eating late at night can cause a person to stay awake longer during the night. This is called the insulin response.
When a body is low on energy, the person will be triggered to eat by a feeling of hunger.
If a person chooses to eat something high in sugar, the body will use insulin to clear the sugar out. People tend to feel tired after eating a large meal (or many carbohydrates/sugars) and fall asleep, because low-blood sugar makes a person sleepy.
After the body returns to a state of homeostasis—normalcy—a person may wake up feeling wide-awake, even if it is the middle of the night.
“As long as a student is moderating what he/she is eating when bedtime approaches, then eating late is not necessarily bad,” said Divin.
Millay admits to eating pasta four to five times per week because it is cheap to buy and easy to make in microwaves.
“Most of the food that I eat has to be ‘quick food’ because I don’t have time to plan a meal or cook. I look for grab-and-go options…or I just don’t eat, which is bad too,” said Millay.
Millay and McAllister say that they wish that they had more time to eat during regular meal times, but busy schedules prevent them from doing so.
Healthy food options are not always readily available for on-campus students on the go.