Every now and then I see references to a “highly sensitive person diet” and I always shake my head. And I guess that’s the short answer to the question in the article title. 🙂
Is there a highly sensitive person diet? No, I really don’t think so.
But if you’d like to go a little deeper on this topic than that, I can tell you the reasons for my opinion and also what many highly sensitive people do have in common when it comes to food.
WHY THERE ISN’T A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON DIET
According to most estimates, roughly 20 to 30 percent of the general population can be considered highly sensitive. As of this writing, that amounts to somewhere between 1.5 to over two billion highly sensitive people in the world. That’s a whole lot of people and a whole lot of diversity we are talking about here.
Just like there isn’t one diet or eating plan that’s right for all eight billion people on the planet, it’s hard to conceive of one that would cover a group of two billion. The eating plan that helps you feel at your best is determined by your gender, age, genetics, activity level, and past health history, among other things.
I’ve personally known highly sensitive people who have felt well on vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, Mediterranean, whole food, paleo, and any number of other diets. I’ve also known highly sensitive people who have done poorly on some of the diets listed above. Even within my own highly sensitive life span, my dietary needs have changed over time as my lifestyle and body have evolved.
So I really don’t believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all dietary solution that’s going to work for all of us.
With that being said, many highly sensitive people do share a few things in common when it comes to diet and eating habits.
3 THINGS MANY HIGHLY SENSITIVE PEOPLE HAVE IN COMMON WHEN IT COMES TO FOOD
1. Sensitivity to things being off with our eating habits
Highly sensitive people are, by definition, more vulnerable to stress than our less sensitive friends and family. And when we aren’t eating enough or at the right times or the right foods for us, that constitutes a major internal stressor. It makes sense when you think about it. Hunger is a signal that survival is at stake! So if you are a highly sensitive person who is “set off” by missed meals or erratic meal times or not having access to the foods that help you feel strong, please know that you are not alone. Many of us need to safeguard our meal times and stick to pretty consistent routines when it comes to feeding ourselves.
2. Needing to pay particular attention to nutrients that support resilience
Because of our vulnerability to stress and various stress triggers, many HSPs need to work harder than the average person at maintaining resilience. Resilience is defined as the “ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events.” While many factors impact resilience, nutrition happens to be one of them. Our brains and nervous systems need all kinds of nutrients to stay healthy and to produce the neurotransmitters that help you feel calm. But again, there’s no one-size-fits all nutrient or supplement regime that’s going to work for all two billion highly sensitive people. If you’d like to learn more about nutritional supports and which ones might be relevant to you, I recommend The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons, MD.
3. Needing a way to manage stress eating
One of the lovely side effects of stress is stress eating or emotional eating. According to Harvard Health Publishing, the stress response shuts down digestion and appetite in the short term, but in the long run, chronic stress leads to elevated cortisol levels and increased appetite. So we feel stressed out and then we turn to food to soothe ourselves and numb our emotions. For many highly sensitive people, this impulse is exacerbated by being too tired to cook by the end of the day. When you are stressed out and tired, it can feel virtually impossible to resist highly processed comfort foods. The obvious solution to stress eating is to find other ways to manage stress, but to really get stress eating under control also requires figuring out healthy meal routines and a way to keep yourself fed with foods that help you feel well and satiated. If this is something you struggle with, you might be interested in my self-paced coaching session on reducing stress eating.
THE RIGHT HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON DIET FOR YOU
Food is a pretty big deal. It’s something we have to manage to take care of multiple times every single day and it’s something that can have a large impact on how you feel both mentally and physically. My wish for you is that you feel empowered to take care of yourself with food in whatever way your body needs. Nobody else can tell you how many times a day you need to eat or what meal plan is right for you. Only your body can tell you. Listen to it and give it what it needs.