hand up saying no next to plate of food and vegetables.

The Hidden Link Between Hypermobility and Picky Eating – And How to Overcome It

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Hypermobility and picky eating are real problems. You might think that being hypermobile only affects your joints. But most of the time, this isn’t the case.

People with hypermobility have all sorts of issues, including easy bruising, gastrointestinal complaints, and food aversions.

One of the most common is picky eating. The problem with this is that certain foods can make hypermobility worse. So, let’s find out how and why hypermobility causes picky eating and how to overcome it.

Are Hypermobility and Picky Eating Common?

Hypermobility affects around 1 in 10 people. But the majority of these individuals are asymptomatic. However, the number of people with symptomatic hypermobility (namely hEDS or HSD) is between 1 in 600 and 1 in 900.

Picky eating is even more common than hypermobility, especially in children. Nationwide Children’s Hospital reports that it sits at 50%.

The chance of having both conditions is high as hypermobility can cause a range of eating problems which we’ll explore below.

Can Hypermobility Cause Eating Problems?

Yes, hypermobility can cause eating problems. People with hypermobility may have difficulty eating due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Joint pain and stiffness – Hypermobile joints can be painful and difficult to use, which can make it challenging to eat certain foods or hold utensils.

  • Sensory issues – Hypermobility often causes sensory processing issues, which can make certain textures or tastes of food intolerable. As a result, ‘safe’ foods are frequently eating, but this often puts individuals at risk of obesity. Obesity makes hypermobility-related symptoms worse, so healthy choices need to made as often as possible.

  • Digestive problems – Hypermobile joints can affect the functioning of the digestive system. This then leads to issues such as constipation, acid reflux, and bloating.

These issues may make you turn to unhealthy, convenience foods. But this is a bad diet for hypermobility and can cause your symptoms to flare up. Instead, you need to tackle your eating problems and stick with a healthy diet recommended for hypermobility.

Related Post: Want to eat Healthily? Try The Best Snacks For Hypermobility

Does Ehlers-Danlos Affect Eating?

Yes, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) can affect eating. Along with the reasons mentioned above, people with EDS may have additional digestive issues due to the impact of the condition on the connective tissues in the body. For example, EDS can affect the functioning of the oesophagus, leading to difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

What Are the Digestive Problems with Hypermobility Syndrome?

Hypermobility and picky eating can be related to the digestive issues linked to hypermobility: 

  • Gastroparesis – This is a condition in which the stomach takes longer than normal to empty its contents, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and bloating.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Hypermobility can be associated with IBS, a condition characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation.

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – This is a condition in which there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. Symptoms include bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

So, if you’ve got a 4-year-old picky eater on your hands who’s also hypermobile, it’s worth considering whether any of these issues are also present. The best thing you can do is speak to your doctor for guidance and advice.

Can Hypermobility and EDS Cause Sensory Issues?

Yes, hypermobility and EDS can cause sensory issues. Food provides many sensory experiences. Take beans on toast, as an example. The smell, appearance, flavor, and texture of these two basic food items do a lot to the body’s senses.

When you’re predisposed to sensory issues due to your hypermobility, eating a basic meal like this can be overwhelming.

Does Hypermobility Cause ARFID?

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a condition in which a person has a limited or restrictive diet due to a variety of factors, including sensory issues, fear of choking, or anxiety. It also has a direct link with hypermobility and picky eating.

While hypermobility itself does not cause ARFID, it can be a contributing factor, particularly if the person has sensory processing issues or difficulty swallowing.

One study also found a link between hypermobility and ARFID in children. It concluded that children with joint hypermobility syndrome had a higher rate of ARFID than the control group of children who weren’t hypermobile.

What Is the Cause of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder?

The exact cause of ARFID is not known, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. 

Genes appear to play a big role as research has found a heritable rate of 70-85%, which puts it on par with ADHD and ASD.

Other causes include experiencing a traumatic event related to food, such as choking. While others may have sensory processing issues that make certain foods intolerable.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) causes ARFID too. This is unsurprising as people with ASD are known to particularly be hypersensitive to smells and textures. A SPARK study details that 21% of people with autism are at risk of ARFID. They also found a genetic link. The ZSWIM6 gene is quoted as being a possible cause of ARFID.

What Is the Best Treatment for ARFID?

So, now you know how hypermobility and picky eating occurs, let’s find out how to treat it. 

The best treatment for ARFID depends on the individual and the underlying cause of the condition. People with ARFID will typically be able to use the following medical professionals and treatment:

  • Hospitalization (in extreme cases)
  • Mental health support
  • Dietician
  • Occupational therapy
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychiatric medications
  • Hypnosis

A personal note

One of my children has ASD, hypermobility, and is a picky eater. They eat the same foods every day and often refuse ‘safe food’ if it’s a different brand or from a different shop. Before writing this article, I had no idea that hypermobility and picky eating were connected. I assumed that ASD was the cause of their food issues. So, it’s interesting to know that hypermobility plays a role too.

Being hypermobile and picky with your food is common. If this is you or your child, it’s good to know that your food aversions are not your or their fault. And, the good news is that there are methods to help you overcome these food issues. 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6534269/

Author

  • Amy

    Amy lives with hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD). She spent years not knowing what was wrong with her body, before eventually being diagnosed in her 30s. She has two young children - both of whom are hypermobile.