The only food I love unconditionally is buffalo chicken wings. But eating buffalo chicken leaves me in a state of pain and discomfort, thanks to my lifelong habit of biting my nails. Every bite of buffalo chicken is a chance for the lava-hot sauce to enter my nail beds, causing them to erupt with scorching hot pain.
I’ve been biting my nails for as long as I can remember. My mom bit her nails, my dad bit his nails, and my brothers bit their nails. I look back fondly on the nights when we’d all be on the couch together watching TV, absentmindedly chewing on our nails in unison. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
My fingernails have always been there and I’ve always enjoyed biting them, so there’s never been a reason not to do it. In fact, I can’t think of a time in my life when sticking my fingers in my mouth wasn’t a viable solution for boredom or nerves. I’m not the only person who doesn’t see anything wrong with biting my nails, either. In fact, my “bad” habit was recently defended by a recent study, which concluded nail-biting can actually benefit children by exposing them to allergens early in life.
That said, nail-biting can be a sign of a more troubling behavior. Indra Cidambi, M.D., the medical director at the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey and a pioneer of addiction medicine, told me that nail-biting has been classified as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but it can basically be attributed to two factors: biological and environmental (so if you associate nail-biting with stress and anxiety, you’ll likely start doing it when you get stressed and anxious). “It’s an addiction,” she says: for the long-time nail biter, it becomes a form of stimulation that you eventually crave.
That’s partly why I recently decided that it was high time for me to kick the habit. I felt disgusting after sticking my fingers in my mouth after a long ride home on the train; plus, my girlfriend was getting tired of finding bits of fingernails all over the apartment.
Lured by the promise of a better life with longer fingernails, I found five different methods of quitting and tried each of them for one week. Ultimately, there was only one that (kind of) worked — but the process leading up to it was total agony.