The Five Essential Nutrition Tips for Highly Sensitive People

It’s no secret that highly sensitive people tend to be more aware of their internal, emotional landscape. They have rich, elaborate and creative inner lives.

It should come as no surprise, then, that highly sensitive people also tend to have a more nuanced relationship with their bodies. They are keyed into subtlety and notice when something is “off.”

The upside to that is that its easier for an HSP to correct moment to moment in ways that are supportive for health. If we notice that we are falling sick with a cold, for example, we might catch it at the beginning, rest up and beat it out before it has time to take root.

Another upside is that we are intimately acquainted with our hunger and satiety signals. We notice when hunger starts. Most HSP could tell you exactly when they start to have an inkling toward hunger (and exactly when they are starting to get full).

There is a downside, however.

Have you ever seen a highly sensitive person hungry? It’s not pretty.

HSP tend to be a lot like hummingbirds. They eat small, frequent meals. The only problem is that like our hummingbird brethren…while we only  need small amounts of nectar in each meal…if we don’t get it, we die. Well…not literally. But you’d certainly think we were on the brink of death based on how poorly we behave.

Anyway…I’ll get to the point. Highly sensitive people, perhaps more than most others, REALLY need to pay attention to their eating habits. The way I like to say it is this: we have a short karmic leash. If we don’t eat clean, we will feel it more intensely. It will have a greater impact on our ability to function. And that, by extension, will have a negative impact on all other aspects of our lives (our work, our relationships, etc.)

So here are five things all HSP should pay attention to when it comes to their food choices.

  1. Highly sensitive people (on the whole) tend to do better when they eat small, frequent meals. An example of how this might look is as follows:
    • Meal 1: 250 – 425 calories
    • Snack 1: 150 – 300 calories
    • Meal 2: 250 – 400 calories
    • Snack 2: 150 – 275 calories
    • Meal 3: 250 – 375 calories
    • Snack 3: 150 – 250 calories
  2. Within each meal and snack, there should always be two things present. You want food that has some fiber in it, and you want something that has some protein in it.
    • Each snack should have at least 6 grams of protein (a piece of string cheese, a hard boiled egg, a serving of beans, a serving of almonds, a half serving of chicken) AND 3 grams of fiber (a serving of fruit or a serving of a non-starchy vegetable)
    • Each meal should include at least 15 grams of protein (a serving of meat, soy, non-fat greek yogurt) and at least 6 grams of fiber (two servings of vegetables or a serving of a vegetable and a serving of a fruit).
  3. Eat bigger portions at the start of the day and smaller portions by the end of the day. The metabolism is at its peak at the start of the day (and we need the bulk of our energy at the beginning for getting through all of our obligations). And by the end of the evening, reducing the quantity of food we eat also helps us get to sleep more easily.
  4. Stay really well hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight (in pounds) and divide that number by two. That number is the amount of ounces you should try and drink each day. Then, on highly active days, try to add 20 more ounces to that number. Why is this important? We can often mistake thirst for hunger. Staying well hydrated helps avoid the tendency to mindlessly snack when we are, in fact, thirsty. That is MUCH easier on the digestive tract (not to mention our waistlines). It also helps with energy. It’s a known fact that highly sensitive people tend to be sensitive to the effects of caffeine and alcohol. Dehydration can lead to a sense of fatigue. Stay hydrated, you’ll need less coffee…which will also help with sleep.
  5. Throw out the junk. This is obvious for just about everyone. But highly sensitive people, in particular, don’t do well with junk food. My experience with my clients has shown me that most HSP can become more easily addicted to processed foods and are more likely to fall prey to using them as comfort foods when overly stimulated. It’s a nasty cycle. But how can we discern junk food from the real thing? Read your labels. Apply these five principles:
    • There should be at least 3 grams of fiber AND/OR 6 grams of protein for every 100 calories
    • There should be no sugar in the first 3 ingredients. (Be careful…the food industry uses over 60 names for sugar. Here is a resource that might be helpful to you.
    • Look at the ingredients. If you cannot pronounce and identify all of them…maybe its best not to eat it.
    • There should be no hydrogenated oils in the ingredients. This is a trans fat. There is no such thing as a healthy amount of trans fats.
    • Five ingredients or less is best.

To be clear…I’m not suggesting that this approach is only good for highly sensitive people. This kind of approach would be good for anyone to follow. It’s just that highly sensitive people tend to be especially responsive to adjustments in the diet (this can be a very good thing. But if the body is ignored, it can be a bit of a disaster).

Eating in this way helps to balance your blood sugar. When your blood sugar is balanced, your three primary hormones (insulin, adrenaline, and cortisol) are better managed. When your hormones are managed, you’re more capable of coping with stimuli and stress. And when you’re more capable of coping…you’re a much more fun human being to hang around. (Trust me…every romantic partner I have ever had knows NEVER to let me leave the house without a snack in my purse. Hungry Leah is a bit like an angry Hulk. You don’t wanna see me hungry).

You’ll be amazed at how quickly these small adjustments to your habits will improve multiple spheres of your life.


I’d love to hear from you. What does your nutrition plan look like? How does what you eat impact your capacity?


11 Comments Add yours

  1. When I’m hungry, y’all better watch out!

    1. leahburkhart says:

      I’m right there with you! I think I saw a bumper sticker on a car, once that read “Forgive me for what I said when I was hungry.” I remember thinking “I don’t know who is driving…but whoever it is, I’m pretty sure that’s my soulmate. They just GET me.” Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  2. Kim says:

    I recently stumbled upon the idea of HSP after googling for hours on insomnia. Now that I have realised that I am indeed a HSP, explanations just fall into place, including why my hands always tremble when I’m hungry while people look at me crazy and say “it’s not even lunch! You had breakfast 3 hours ago!”

    Thank you for this post. I’ll try this dietary advice and see if I can get my hunger induced moodiness under control!

    1. leahburkhart says:

      Hi Kim,
      You’re so welcome! And can I relate! I have the same sensations…shaky hands and all. I’m delighted to hear the information was helpful. And if you have any follow-up questions about it later on, please feel free to reach out. I’m always happy to chat.

  3. Elvira says:

    omg, this is so helpful! thanks!

    1. leahburkhart says:

      Hi Elvira,
      I’m so glad it was helpful! Thanks very much for the support. If ever you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

  4. Zein Shafat says:

    Thanks so much for such a great article. Very informative and full of guidance. While reading it, I was feeling like I was reading about myself 100%. You are so right, a good balance diet is the solution because balance diet brings the balance in the physical and emotional energies in the body and mind. Thanks again.

    1. leahburkhart says:

      You’re very welcome! I’m so glad it was of help. And it really is amazing how big a difference food can make in our lives. We digest so much in our lives…experiences…food…and if you’re working with a highly sensitive system…we really do have to be more deliberate about what we take in on all levels. I think a teacher I worked with once said “we have a MUCH shorter leash than the average person. Some people can use and abuse their bodies and still be fine. Not us.” But hey…in compensation, we tend to live longer since we are more likely to act before our imbalances go too far. So there’s that!

  5. As a nutritionist I think carbohydrates must be included in the diet as well (healthy complex carbohydrates). Meals need to be balanced, more or less of each macronutrient.. protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

  6. Angela Sankovich says:

    I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but it seems like when I eat a diet higher in meats and cheese that I get more aggressive and more quick-tempered. Also, when I eat too much processed sugar I also feel like that throws off my chemistry really quickly in terms of emotional swings. Does anyone else experience more aggression with meat and cheese? I love them so much butI feel so much calmer when I don’t eat them (on a regular basis). Anyone else?

    1. leahburkhart says:

      Hi Angela! I don’t know if I have ever felt more aggressive after eating meat and cheese…but I have definitely heard people say they have had that experience. It makes a bit of sense. From the scientific perspective, meat and cheese both have a complete profile of amino acids (and having a lot of protein can give us a certain type of capacity and energy). But even if I had never heard of ANYONE who had experienced what you just described, I would still celebrate your awareness and listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel more quick tempered after eating meat and cheese, and you want to cool that down, you are now armed with information about how to do that. If you know that you are going to have to do something that requires you to be at ease, perhaps choose to abstain from animal products that day. On the flipside, if there is a day you have signed up for a 10K and you want to take that aggression and channel it into an impressive physical performance…perhaps invite meat and cheese onto the plate. You might ALSO look at the larger picture. Is there anything else that tends to be going on when you crave meat and cheese? Is it the meat and cheese that causes aggression? Or is there something else that causes you to feel aggressive and that THEN leads to a craving for meat and cheese? I trust your instincts either way. As for sugar ….Ohhh yes. I absolutely have had that experience. It’s delicious. Delightful. For about 15 minutes. And then it feels like my energy is a roller-coaster of highs and lows. One thing I find helpful if I want to have sugar is to balance it with a little bit of protein and fiber. For example, if I am just itching for ice cream, I purposefully scoop out a small serving. Then I grab a bit of fruit and some nuts. It helps me feel satisfied and it curbs the impact of the sugar a bit. I hope that helps!

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