What are “sensory foods” and why do they matter?

What are you ingesting with the rest of your senses?

“You are the books you read, the films you watch, the music you listen to, the people you meet, the dreams you have, the conversations you engage in.”
— Unknown

Sensory food is what you consume through all your five senses, beyond just that which is physically chewed, and swallowed.

(I don’t subscribe to any religion, but) I love Buddhist some of the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s —

”We’re familiar with edible food … But that’s not the only kind of food we humans consume; it’s just one kind. What we read, our conversations, the shows we watch, the online games we play, and our worries, thoughts, and anxieties are all food.”

In Buddhism, these different types of sensory foods are called Nutriments.

A nutriment can be defined as “something that nourishes or promotes growth, provides energy, repairs body tissues, and maintains life”.

I’ve become obsessed with this concept lately, because it points to the effect of things on your mind and body beyond just edible food — an idea which I haven’t found clearly articulated elsewhere. The Four Nutriments is a great model for considering all the things that fuel our lives.

Personally I got quite the shock when I audited my sensory food! Read about the four nutriments so you can do your own audit…


The Four Nutriments

1. Edible Food

The most obvious. What are you eating?

What you are eating affects not only your body, but your brain/mind and mood. There’s a surplus of people writing about diets, so I’ll move on quickly to…


2. Sense Impressions

This is about “sensory foods”, that we tend to give less consideration too, when compared with our edible food diets. These are sense impressions that come from external stimuli. (This might be the most important of the four to reflect on, because of it’s impact on nutriment 3 & 4 below).


What are the impressions you are taking in via your other senses?
What are you looking at, smelling, touching, hearing?
What’s on your Netflix or your Kindle or your Twitter feed?
Are you choosing the kind of sensory foods you want to consume?

Much of the sensory food we take in enters our subconscious (often depicted as the part of the iceberg below water).

What do you want in your subconscious?

I’ll admit I still catch myself watching NCIS late at night from time to time, which must be sensory junk food, but I try to avoid the marathons that leave me rattled, and I’m healthier for it.


3. Volition

This is about our motivation in the world. This is internal.

What are you motivated to do?
What in the world fuels you to get out of bed in the morning?

4. Consciousness

This is about thoughts, both individual and collective. I think of this as mostly internal dialogue.

Are you aware of the contents of your thoughts?
Are they the kind of thoughts you want to be consuming?

What are you consuming?

I hope this is a useful model for considering all the things that fuel your life. I found it super interesting to consider particularly the sense impressions I was filling up on.

Note that this is not about starting a “steamed vegetable/no TV/devote life to world peace/think happy thoughts” diet, but just merely noticing what you are consuming beyond just edible food… and making small changes — if you want to.

Further Reading

The book “Silence” — by Thich Nhat Hanh