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Sensory Diet (By Susan Nesbit, O.T.)

by Misophonia International (Admin)

 What is The Sensory Diet? 

Patricia and Julia Wilbarger coined the term sensory diet. Persons with sensory over-responsivity (SOR) – a subtype of sensory processing disorders (SPD) – use sensory diets to stay calm, energized, and organized. Sensory diets are used for SOR in many sensory channels, including the auditory (sounds), the visual (sights), the tactile (touch), and the olfactory (smells). Note: The term SPD often is used interchangeably with SOR, including auditory over-responsivity. To be in sync with others, I used the term SPD in this document, unless the more narrow term of SOR or auditory-responsivity is needed for clarity.

Will a Sensory Diet Help For Misophonia? 

Whether a sensory diet is also helpful for persons with misophonia is unclear, it seems affordable. Sensory diets were developed to treat SOR. If the causes of misophonia are different, then a sensory diet may not be effective. Scholars have speculated that both conditions are neurologically based, and perhaps the same structures in the brain are involved. Scholars from both camps proposed that the limbic system plays a role. The limbic system controls our emotions and the fight-flight-freeze response. The amygdala filters out the unimportant and irrelevant sensory information so it does not reach the limbic system. Deep pressure and slow movement are theorized to help the amygdala act as a filter. If the amygdala plays a role in misophonia, then a sensory diet could lessen the impact of the triggers so persons can respond with less adversity to noxious sounds (triggers). Research is needed to investigate the similarities and the differences between auditory over-responsivity and misophonia.

Purpose of a Sensory Diet: Use a strategic mix of sensory activities to reduce meltdowns (e.g., yelling or snapping at someone) and shutdowns (withdrawing).

Definition of Sensory Dieting: Similar to eating food every few hours, the body needs to be replenished with sensory input. You may need to do a sensory diet every one-two hours. Sensory diets can be used at specific daily time periods or as needed. Choose one or more activities. Doing a sensory diet for 5-15 minutes can be helpful; however, doing a sensory diet for 30 minutes has a longer-lasting effect.

Essential Ingredients in a Sensory Diet: Proprioceptive (pressure) and vestibular (movement) inputs can be calming and organizing. Swinging is the ideal source of vestibular input. The effect in the brain from 15 minutes of swinging is reported to last up to eight hours. Other types of sensory input affect the brain for one-to-two hours. Some experts recommend swinging for at least 15 minutes, 2 times per day (e.g., early morning and late afternoon). Because a swing hung from one hook can be moved at varying speeds (e.g., fast) and in more directions, using a swing hung from a single hook gives more intense and longer-lasting input than a swing hung from two hooks. Important points: Slow, linear, and rhythmical movements are calming, and fast, rotary, and erratic movements are excitatory.

Proprioceptive input is speculated to help integrate vestibular input. Climb and jump after swinging. Proprioceptive input can be used alone without vestibular input. Proprioceptive input is gotten through “heavy work” such as carrying books, moving furniture and vacuuming, and lifting free weights.

Proprioceptive input can be calming, energizing, and organizing. So when in doubt, use heavy work (proprioception).


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Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.