The Awesome Upside of TMJD

No, it’s not the latest techie thing, social media platform, or marketing wizardry. It’s Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, and it’s one of the most painful things humans can have.

The Temporomandibular joint is where your jaw meets your skull, and there’s one joint right in front of each ear.

Everything around my left ear was excruciating, including inside the ear canal, which is a very sensitive little spot, it turns out.

I thought I was having a terrible experience. This was mind-numbingly painful all the time. Turns out there was a terrific upside.

Talking was immensely painful (was this God’s way of telling me to the shut f**k up?).

Yawning was like having nails driven into my skull.

Eating was especially tortuous. A liquid diet seemed the only answer. Damn did I get tired of protein shakes!

As the pain started to lighten up I started eating — carefully — again, which is when I discovered the great upside of TMJD: it had turned me into mindful eater.

I am trying hard to hold onto this today, because mindful eating has some amazing benefits:

  • Food, all food, is way more enjoyable (and, let’s face it, eating is one of the true sensual pleasures of life, so making it even better is…well…like making sex better)
  • You realize that crap food is called crap for a reason (it either actually tastes horrible or has an awful mouthfeel)
  • Your eating slows down, so you consume less
  • As your eating slows down, interestingly, you spend less time each day eating (good for all you A types out there)
  • It makes you feel that the best you is in control of your eating
  • It must also improve your health, although I have no factual data on this, anecdotally, it sure feels that way.

It seems that most of us go totally, or mostly, unconscious when we eat — when was the last time you actually focused on what you were chewing on?

So migrating to mindful eating is laborious, but lovingly so. Here’s what I discovered is involved:

  • Take smaller — much smaller — bites
  • Be aware of which side of your mouth you’re chewing on — and give each side a chance to play (turns out that besides being right or left handed, we are also right or left jawed)
  • A key point: chew gently. Be aware of just how hard your teeth are coming together on each and every bite
  • Chew well (our Moms were right) and swallow gently (it turns out that our teeth come together the hardest when we swallow, unless you stay conscious of it)
  • Feel every bite you take; be aware of the subtleties of the tastes and textures in your mouth
  • Let yourself be full when your body says “enough!”

And the benefits of all of this? They’re great. In 60 days I lost the ten pounds I’d been trying to lose for years (and had increased exercise, given up drinking, and tried reducing my calorie intake, all to no avail before this); it feels great to be consuming less without feeling deprived; no longer being “ruled” by food is wonderfully freeing; I feel healthier and have more energy; and it’s another area of life where I feel in control.

Now that my TMJD episode has (mostly) abated, continuing to eat mindfully is a challenge — there is a strong pull towards unconsciousness; it’s fun just shoving in food and consuming it! But the benefits are too great to give up.

So here is my challenge: try it. Use each of the six points above for a meal, a day, a week, a month, whatever. I’d love to hear if your experiences jibe with my own.

Happy (mindful) eating!


Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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