Diet guidelines for the Highly Sensitive Person

April 5, 2012

Figuring out what to eat can be a challenge of epic proportions for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), because everything we eat affects us so much.

If we don’t eat enough we feel light-headed, drained, anxious and jittery.

If we eat too much, or the wrong things, mind fog sets in big time.

We’re also prone to digestive issues and to everything else that goes with having a sensitive constitution.

Processed foods affect us more than most – refined sugar and caffeine are powerful mind-altering drugs for us.

But if we strip away all that and eat a super clean raw diet, our emotions can feel far too…well…raw.

While food that’s unfired is an essential component of any diet, eating 100% raw is challenging for HSPs, as we need to eat in a way that calms and grounds us.

It’s hard to get enough grounding foods on a raw diet without overdoing the fats (though we certainly shouldn’t underdo them either; they’re essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system).

A whole foods diet is the way to go – experiment to find the amount of raw that works for you, and also the foods that you feel best on.

The number one rule is the same for you as for everyone else: make vegetables the centre of your diet. Enjoy them in salads, juices, smoothies, soups, stews and other dishes.

They are grounding, balancing, and loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

With vegetables as the star of the show, pick from a supporting cast that can include nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and high-quality animal foods, if you desire.

Stay away from stimulants, and not just the obvious ones like cola, coffee and cocaine. Give cacao a wide berth (it’s not for nothing that it’s often referred to as “crackao”) and if your adrenals are exhausted you may find you need to skip the green tea, too, and opt for caffeine-free alternatives.

Beware of extreme detox regimes such as water or juice fasts.

These put a great deal of strain on the body’s organs and systems and are very depleting.

HSPs fare much better on gentler detox diets because, as psychologist Elaine Aron writes in her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You:

“Hunger is yet another stimulus. Besides arousing one further it produces a dimunition of the biochemical substances necessary for the usual, calmer functioning of the nervous system.”

So while a juice fast might seem like the quickest way to get results, it can be counterproductive.

It can put nervous system in a state of stress, which will switch on its sympathetic “fight or flight” branch, and switch off its parasympathetic “detox and rest” one.

So although it’s counterintuitive, you are likely to experience deeper detoxification, faster, on a less punishing regime.

When our blood sugar is out, us HSPs feel it quickly and profoundly in the form of anxiety, light-headedness, tiredness and/or irritability, so eating for blood sugar balance is essential.

This means eating regularly, and eating grounding and balancing foods such as greens and healthy fats and proteins.

I also recommend taking chlorella between meals, as this can help keep blood sugar balanced, and is also loaded with healthy chlorophyll.

Our sensitivity makes us prone to stress, and stress burns through magnesium and B vitamins at a fantastic rate, so we may need to supplement those.

For Bs, choose from a multi-vitamin/mineral or a good B-Complex – either way, ideally go for one that’s free of magnesium stearate (which, as I explained here, does not give you magnesium; it’s a synthetic flow agent added to make manufacturing equipment run more smoothly).

The most effective way to get extra magnesium into your body is transdermally, i.e. through the skin.

There are two ways to do this and you can take your pick, or do them both:

1. Rub magnesium oil into your skin every morning after washing and before getting dressed.

2. Add 500g of magnesium salts to a hot bath once a week and soak for half an hour. If you’re feeling especially frazzled make it a whole kilo.

In summary:

  • Eat regularly and resist any urge to undereat.
  • Base your diet around vegetables.
  • Be sure to get plenty of healthy fats.
  • If you need extra help balancing your blood sugar, take chlorella between meals.
  • Steer clear of stimulants.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself extra magnesium and B vitamins.

For more tips, check out my guide to thriving as a highly sensitive person.

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15 comments

  1. Maria said on April 6, 2012

    Wonderful simple advice!

    Reply

  2. Anonymous said on April 22, 2012

    This is wonderful, finally someone addressing us ‘highly sensitive individuals’ instead of a one-size-fits-all approach! I particularly love this bit…

    “Give cacao a wide berth (it’s not for nothing that it’s often referred to as “crackao”) and if your adrenals are exhausted you may find you need to skip the green tea, too, and opt for caffeine-free alternatives.”

    Great to hear when so many health conscious people are raving about how wonderful raw cacao is, and green tea too. I love the taste of raw cacao but it lowers my blood sugar by extremes and I feel awful on it. Same with green tea, it’s still tea after all, way too much caffeine in both of these for me.

    Thanks for this article! :)

    Reply

  3. lindajoy said on May 3, 2012

    Hi Sarah
    Stumbled on this after reading about the Raw vegan village fiasco. I read the book about being highly sensitive a few months ago and it was an eye opener. But I hadn’t thought about how to apply it to my raw diet.
    After reading your blog it will be easier for me to resist the pressure to follow the 80.10.10 diet. Now I know why I need my fat!
    And I will be more consistent about taking chorella.
    I find all your articles so wise! Many thanks

    Reply

    • Sarah Best said on May 3, 2012

      I appreciate your saying that, Linda – thank you! – and I’m glad you’ve found the information useful.

      Reply

  4. MARY said on May 10, 2012

    Thank you so much. That reading was so very helpful and now I know that I’m not going around the bend.

    Reply

  5. Ruth Allen said on May 10, 2012

    thankyou for this, will share it :) x

    Reply

  6. lindab said on May 14, 2012

    Sarah,
    Thank you so much. This really helps – I’ve been following a raw diet for a year, with not so good results this past couple months. Now I know how to tweak it :) Really enjoyed the first article in this series. It was eye opening – and affirming. Again – thank you.

    Reply

    • Sarah Best said on May 15, 2012

      Thanks, Linda. I think these tweaks will help you, and hope you’re enjoying better results soon.

      Reply

  7. teri said on November 26, 2012

    Hi,

    I am sensitive to caffeine and I may be sensitive to sugar also.

    I have a contraction in my left SCM muscle in my neck and it turns my head to the right involuntarily consistently.

    Please let me know at my email address what I can do other than the advice I am taking from this great article. I really need help I have tried everything. I am goingto a chiropractor for my neck but I also believe my sympathetic nervous systems must be locked in. Thanks, Teri

    Reply

  8. teri said on November 26, 2012

    Hi Again,Can you please also let me know if you have ever helped anyone and with what results with the contractions in the neck. Other than these contractions my right groin was injured 10 years before my neck began contracting. I thought maybe the left side was compensating for the right side that became increasingly weak after the groin injury. Thanks again.

    Reply

  9. Mimi said on January 24, 2013

    This advice is so generic. These are standard diet guidelines for EVERYONE not just HSP’s.

    Reply

  10. MissMandy said on February 3, 2013

    Yes…thank you so much for this page. I do especially appreciate the recommendation for the chlorella…took my first pill of it today, have to go easy on a dicey tummy, but i felt light and happy and lifted up after I took it…gonna clean up my diet too and try to lay off the caffiene…ur page made me feel not so alone…thank you very much. MM

    Reply

  11. elena said on March 11, 2013

    Really great read thank you , I admit when I first came to the page and saw raw, I thought oh no not a go raw thing. As you say raw just throws me for a loop! Green tea oh I had a terrible reaction with that after a health educator told me to try it.My father found me 2hours after I had had a cup of green tea hanging on to the garage door , trying to run away from home ( yes I am an adult !!)but hearing a house in the next street being knocked down I thought the FBI and the CIA where trying to kill me with bombs. Seriously and I do not even live in the US. He took me in put me to bed and when I woke up 5 hours later I had a terrible hangover, but was in my right mind again. Could I ask what magnesium oil you would use please. I have tried two one peeled my feet to bits, later discovered there was soy in it that had not been declared on the label. The other one knocked me out, I later was told an ingredient in it could be very hard for sensitive people to detox. So just wondered what you would suggest please ? Thank you for such interesting info

    Reply

    • Sarah Best said on March 12, 2013

      Have you tried the Better You brand? That’s widely sold in the UK, and I and others I know have found it to be a good brand to use. Are you in the UK?

      Reply

  12. Kaitlyn said on April 8, 2013

    I’m a extremely highly sensitive person and to me it feels like I’m struggling to make it through every day. I have to change my diet but I’m very picky.. Ill take your advice or try for that matter if I’m ever motivated

    Reply

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