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Sensory Diet? What’s food got to do with it?

By: Dr. Tiffany G. Showalter, OTD, OTR/L

It’s not Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach or Jenny Craig… Despite what you may have thought, a sensory diet has nothing to do with food, fat, sugar, carbs or counting calories! A sensory diet is, rather, a “diet” of activities and sensory input for your body and neurological system. Just the same way your body needs food evenly spaced throughout the day, so does your body need activities to keep its arousal level optimal.

There are certain types of sensory activities that are similar to eating a “main course” and are very powerful and satisfying. These activities are proprioceptive and vestibular and provide movement, deep-touch pressure, and heavy work. They have the most significant and long-lasting impact on the nervous system. There are other types of activities that may be beneficial, but their impact is not as great. These “sensory snacks,” or “mood makers,” are activities that last for a shorter period of time and generally include mouth, auditory, visual, or smell experiences.

Sensory diets are very powerful tools and should be overseen by an occupational therapist; however as a parent it is essential that you are fully aware of what treatments are available and why they are recommended. So the next time you hear someone say, “sensory diet” rest assured that you can still eat a Twinkie if that’s your thing.


Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration, Yack, Aquilla, Sutton (2004)

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