The One About Weight, Jaw Clenching, and "Number Five"
September 8, 2012 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Very overweight. Constant jaw clenching. Stress. Fixation with "input". Any idea if these things could be related?

I am very overweight, morbidly obese in fact (5' 10", 365 lbs). I am also quite stressed (money/job issues). And I have had a lifelong habit of clenching my jaw. Not a steady clinch, a rhythmic one. Usually in time to a song in my head. My jaws do not hurt, but I have hella jaw muscles. My molars have taken a beating over the years and I have dental problems.

The only time the urge to do that subsides is when I am actually munching on something. I can feel the endorphins calming me when I eat. Then, within half an hour of eating till I am full, I want to munch again and the clenching starts. Lately I have started to note that my jaw clenching may be "priming" my urge to chew food. Is this a thing?

I should also note that I was not overweight as a kid; quite thin, in fact.

If this is related, I also have a thing (I hesitate to use the word "obsession") with input. I feel the need to constantly be reading, learning. I know this seems silly, but this scene from the movie "Short Circuit" hit this feeling on the head for me as a kid: I read voraciously. When I got my first Internet connection, I went nuts. I also loved Encarta. Now my Wikipedia app sees more use than Facebook. I can't describe the connection between these phenomenon very well, but there is a similar feeling for me with eating.

I am throwing this all out there in the hope that someone knows something I don't.
posted by skypieces to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds familiar to me. I almost panic if there is no 'input' on the bus or in the bathroom. A childhood counselor noticed my severe nailbiting and assured me I would experience addiction problems later in life.

The best advice I have is chew gum and get sugar free mints and tooth picks- and ALWAYS have water and a book. I have been really successful quitting chewing tobacco simply replacing it with gum. Having something in my mouth was harder to deal with than withdrawing from nicotine. This is different from your situation, I know, but man it sounds familiar! I think the NEED to always be reading- I can't watch a movie w/o browsing the web, I keep MEFI open when I play videogames- definitely fits into the same mental framework as the more damaging habits. Just thank your fucking stars you are not a heavy drinker.

TL;DR: gum tastes god and won't hurt your teeth, reading is fine, water tastes good cold, you are not alone in this.
posted by kittensofthenight at 8:14 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

What you've described sounds a lot like a list of tactics for avoiding emotions. That's the common factor between eating and the distractions of "input" -- both allow you to allay anxiety and avoid the feelings that might be lurking underneath the anxiety. One way to deal with that is to try to substitute more healthy avoidance tactics (ie, chewing gum instead of eating chips). Another way is to try to figure out what's going on with the emotions and anxiety -- seeing a therapist, in other words. There's no reason you can't try both at once, but I would definitely suggest considering the therapist option.
posted by ourobouros at 8:28 PM on September 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

I've often thought that physical consumption and mental consumption are linked. Look how badly we need a snack when we are at the movies -- it's ritualistic, the snack is an effigy for the visual input and we eat, eat, eat. Same with having dinner in front of the computer. The problem with linking these two is that it's very easy to wind up always doing one or the other, or both.

I try to force myself to do a regular meditation. I keep a notepad and pen nearby in case I get an idea or question that I just HAVE to write down for later.
posted by hermitosis at 9:34 PM on September 8, 2012

You know, I forgot about the nailbiting. When I was a child, I bit my nails down to the quick. I control it better now, but still do it. I just force myself to stop before getting painful and too unsightly.

As for emotional avoidance, I can certainly see how that could be in play here. I (would) have nightly bouts of panic attacks, which I stave off by keeping my head busy until I fall asleep. Of course, these were not always the case, but certainly could be part of this now. I am aware that I need to "talk to someone" about this. Without insurance at the moment.

I have thought of gum. Come to think of it, one of the times I was successful in losing weight, I had a tin of Altoids with me at all times. I also smoked back then. Hmmm.
posted by skypieces at 10:00 PM on September 8, 2012

I think I share a lot of your traits, to a lesser extent. I don't get panic attacks at night, for example, but I do get anxious and sometimes use the internet to keep myself up until I know I'll fall asleep quickly so my brain doesn't race when I lie down. (Recently I was prescribed a sleeping pill which has helped a great deal.) I haul a book around with me everywhere, or listen to podcasts. My anxiety has been pretty well controlled until recently and so I've started seeing a therapist who will hopefully help me learn better management skills for the anxiety.

I like having sugar free mints (Eclipse peppermints are great) and a bottle of really cold ice water with me at my desk at work. It seems to satisfy some of that urge.
posted by PussKillian at 10:08 PM on September 8, 2012

Would love to find a mint or gum that actually had vitamins or other helpful things in it. I don't if sucking on Airborne or calcium pills all the time is a good idea, but something more in that vein. Might as well boost my health from that end, too.

When I drive long distances, I destroy some beef jerky and Jelly Bellies. It keeps my mind cranking. Some healthy replacement for that would be a godsend. Man, I just wonder if I could find a workable solution to this and maybe start losing some weight. This feels like jonesing.
posted by skypieces at 10:13 PM on September 8, 2012

There are usually options for low-cost counseling in every city. Typically the base cost is reasonable with a sliding scale that helps make it affordable so you can start dealing with anxiety even without insurance.
posted by metahawk at 10:21 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

For the long drives: audio books.

If you need something to put in your mouth while driving use sugarfree hard candies or nuts and water/Crystal Light.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:07 AM on September 9, 2012

I know what you mean and I found a lot of that misdirected "hunger" went away when I was prescribed Prozac. Now I only eat when hungry and I can actually relax and stare at clouds without needing a book. YMMV of course, but my experience suggested to me a definited link between those behaviours and anxiety/serotonin malfunction. I now feel that my brain has actually been required to get appropriate pleasure from healthy things!
posted by KateViolet at 2:21 AM on September 9, 2012

Required= rewired
posted by KateViolet at 2:22 AM on September 9, 2012

I've (mostly) replaced nail biting with chewing sugar free gum for hours a day. (Trident green, occasionally blue when I need a change of pace.) If I don't have something to chew on, I'm much more likely to clench my jaw, bite my nails and look for food.
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:47 AM on September 9, 2012

What hermatosis said about meditation. And what ourobouros said about emotions.

You react to stress/anxiety as if it were a gun to your head forcing you to do things. What if you refused and saw what happened? Didn't eat or clench but watched? Took note of what your thoughts and feelings were? And by "took note" I meant take them as phenomena, not as truths or even insights. Just data. Especially take note of judgments and "reasons" to stop taking note. Free yourself from the compulsion to run from yourself.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:04 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

your jaw clenching sounds more psychological than physical, BUT you might want to try magnesium citrate (make sure it's citrate!) supplements. the magnesium ions help to release clenching and muscle cramping that often comes from too much adrenaline coursing through your body (constant floods of anxiety or stress). after a week of taking this (at slightly higher doses than the bottle suggests, i'll admit, but i'm not about to tell YOU to do that) my jaw always relaxes and i feel way less stressed.

but this also seems like a case for calming the mind so you can deal with the feelings below the surface.

good luck!
posted by andreapandrea at 6:08 AM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would love to find a mint or gum that actually had vitamins or other helpful things in it.

I don't know of any that contain vitamins, but something like Spry is made with Xylitol, which is supposed to be better for your teeth than sucralose or whatever they use in the mainstream sugar free gums. You can usually find it at health food stores, or online, of course.

As someone else who uses constant 'input' as an avoidance technique, I'm with ourobouros. It sounds like emotional avoidance. Counseling is an answer, sure, but since you're without insurance, meditation and/or journaling might help you start to unravel some of it.

At least it could help you relax and learn how to cope without constant input, although if you have trouble with meditation at first (I do) you can try a guided meditation, where someone talks you through the process. Best of both worlds, really. I've used some of Bellaruth Naparstek's meditations and they're pretty good. She has some specifically for stress as well as weight issues. I've used the one called Anger & Forgiveness and it's helped some.
posted by carolinecrane at 6:09 AM on September 9, 2012

I'm not overweight but I also get the urge to chew on things. Pens, strings, pencils, phone attenaes (once a long time ago), plastic coffee stirrers etc. I also bit my nails ferociously. Somehow I just stopped most of that, partially because it looks bad, partially because I was scared I would get cancer from absorbing toxins from the plastics. Maybe I'm less stressed?! Even now I get the urge to buy specific things to chew on- hard wine gums, pretzels and so on. I try to buy fat free things. Gum is okay, I don't really like it and it gives me jaw pains. I would try to deal with the stress somehow, accupuncture? Sleeping more? Drinking less coffee? And I would also try to watch the caloric intake of the stuff you do decide to chew on. For sure it all sounds related though. (on preview, I also read constantly. I never thought about that connection before). Now I try to deal with anxiety by walking long distances, maybe you could try walking too, you're doing something, there's a lot to look at (well, here in NYC there is) and you can listen to something on your ipod or whatever at the same time. It would also help with weight loss.
posted by bquarters at 6:54 AM on September 9, 2012

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