top of page

What is a sensory diet and how can I use one?

Adapted for adults, with permission, from Your Kids Table.

I have adapted a load of Your Kids Table tips for use in my own day-to-day, so wanted to do this for you too. Below is a version of this article from Your Kids Table, adapted for adults. At the bottom, I've added my own take on how I've used the information.


What is a sensory diet?

"Sensory diet" is a common term used by Occupational Therapists, but there are lots of misconceptions about it. Thankfully, even for folks with quite extreme sensory needs, having a sensory diet can become a normal part of daily life that you don't even have to think about.

A sensory diet provides you with different types of sensory input, as you need it, throughout the day, so you can function to your full potential.

A breakdown of that definition

Providing you with different types of sensory input

Activities you have available for yourself that give you any type of sensory stimulation you need. This could relate to any of your senses. The five classic senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell), plus movement and pressure (for your vestibular and proprioceptive senses). We are all processing sensory information in our environments all the time. And we all have preferences. But for those of us with sensory processing differences (e.g. autistic folks), addressing these preferences and needs can have a really big impact.

As you need it

Often best right before you would benefit (e.g. if you always find yourself jumping up and down and distracted when needing to leave the house, schedule some jumping time five minutes earlier). There will also be things you do on the fly, because (unfortunately) we can't predict everything that is going to happen and affect us ahead of time. You'll gradually learn which things help you the most in which situations.

Throughout the day

Every day will be different, so having different things available each day will help. Following the jumping example above, one day one minute might be enough but another day it might be ten. Some days it might be a totally different activity that helps e.g. having a breakfast with crunchy food or wearing a tight-fitting top. It doesn't matter about the specific activities, the important thing is that it can flex with your mood and what you've got going on.

So you can function to your full potential

The purpose of using a sensory diet is that, when your sensory issues are managed, you should be able to do anything you are capable of doing. When you have sensory needs your brain gets stuck on those. E.g. a desire to jump means you can't focus on anything else, or the buzzing from some lights is all you can hear. When you have the right sensory activities to meet those needs, your brain has more space to do all the learning, listening, communicating, eating, and sleeping that it needs to. A sensory diet is just a tool that allows you to help fill whatever sensory need you might have.


How does a sensory diet work?

For some people, a sensory diet might mean regularly scheduled activities, like in our earlier example about leaving the house. Your sensory diet may be fairly regimented with a specific schedule every day.

Or, you may use sensory diet activities as they’re needed. E.g. when you notice you are feeling overwhelmed by a noisy environment, you put on some headphones that you always keep on hand.

Or, probably most likely, a combination of the two! All our sensory needs and preferences are different. So, everyone's ideal sensory diet will look different!

Some practical suggestions:

  • You could keep a list, whiteboard, or stack of cards with all the activities that help you, so you have prompts to choose from when things are getting tricky

  • You could pull it all together into a template like this one

If you're stuck for what to include, I've shared lots of sensory activities that help me - there is one in there for every sense. Plus this list, also adapted from Your Kids Table.

Remember, it's all about trial and error. First, pick a few things that feel appealing and easy, notice if they help you, be willing to ditch things that don't, and keep building from there.

The most important point is to understand that the essence of the sensory diet is to help yourself to get the sensory input you need when you need it.

When you figure out and understand your sensory needs, that is what makes a sensory diet very manageable. It becomes a way of life because you’re helping yourself in small, routine ways, the same way you would help yourself remember to eat meals or brush your teeth.


How I've used this

At first, I tried scheduling very specific activities but found that didn't quite work. My needs aren't consistent enough for that to make sense and it became stressful to try and stick to a schedule.

So, I ditched the expectations around the specifics. Instead, I know the times when I'm likely to need something and will have various options available to me.

The times I focus on are:

  • While I am out: I carry a "sensory" kit" which for me consists of headphones, sunglasses, a fidget toy, boiled sweets, and anything that smells nice.

  • Snack times: at 10.30 and 15.30 in my work calendar I have "snack + sensory check" to remind me to check in on whether I need to adjust things. That could mean dimming the lights, getting up and jumping around, noticing I'm uncomfortable and adjusting, making a hot drink, deep breathing, or choosing something from my "sensory box". My sensory box is a toy box in the living room containing any sensory item that will fit. It means there is an easily accessible selection and I don't need to remember all the options!

  • First thing in the morning: I try to do something physical that will wake my senses up in a positive way. Like yoga, running, walking, a strength workout, or stretching.

  • After lunch: I tend to feel very sleepy and groggy after lunch, which unsettles me because it is so different from how I feel before eating. So, I often do some sort of calming sensory activity at that point. After enough time has passed, I'll do something more alerting to get me back into work mode (on a work day) like jumping or stretching.

  • After work: I often have simultaneously quite a lot of energy to get out and a need to calm down. What I choose really depends on the day, so the sensory box comes in handy here if I'm not sure what will help.

Lauren x


This article was adapted, with permission, from Your Kids Table. Your Kids Table is run by Alisha Grogan, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist with over 18 years of experience and a mum to three boys. She works to give parents real solutions to all things feeding and sensory, through education about sensory processing.


bottom of page