Can’t Stop Biting Your Nails? Here’s How To Quit That Habit

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    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.

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    I kicked off my experiment with the simplest but arguably most difficult method: quitting cold turkey. Before I even got out of bed in the morning, I found it tough to kick the habit. In fact, weaning myself off cigarettes three years ago proved to be easier than telling myself to not put my fingers in my mouth.

    The problem wasn’t that I wanted to bite my nails. It was that my muscle memory took over without me realizing it, to the point that I found myself mindlessly chewing on my nails throughout the day. By the end of the day, I realized that quitting cold turkey was just not going to work.

    Do Your Fingernails Look Weird? It Might Be A Health Warning.

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    3 / 6 DAY 2: CHEWING GUM

    The folks at Wikihow, bless their souls, listed a few helpful ways to kick the habit of nail-biting. One of the more obvious methods involved simply keeping one’s mouth busy by chewing gum, so I decided to give it a shot. With a travel pack of peppermint Trident in my pocket, I spent the whole day answering every single urge to bite my nails with a fresh piece of gum. While the constant chewing did in fact keep me from focusing on my nails, I did realize that I was ultimately substituting one bad habit for another. In the end, it was my gag reflex that got the best of me (there is, apparently, such a thing as overdosing on gum). After I finished my last piece, I ended up going right back to my nails, like a moth drawn to a hip moth party.

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    4 / 6 DAY 3: TRIM YOUR NAILS

    I’ll be frank: I knew from experience that this method wouldn’t work (real nail-biters aren’t deterred by less material to chew on), and to quote Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park, “Boy, do I hate being right all the time!” Switching from my teeth to nail clippers did nothing but exacerbate the sorry state of my nails. Not only was I still biting my nails, but tying my shoes or peeling stickers off things became excruciatingly painful. It was clear by the end of the day that there was more to my nail-biting than routine.

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    This strategy is all over the internet, but I don’t recommend it. I spent 10 minutes with the bandages on the tips of my fingers before tearing them off and using the rest of the day trying to get all the excessive adhesive off my fingernails. However, the adhesive doubles as a great deterrent as it tastes like plastic vomit.

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    Nail-biting is common enough that there are specific products on the market that claim to help you kick the habit. One of these products is Bite No More, an anti-nail-biting polish you’re supposed to put on your nails. It’s pretty easy to describe the taste of Bite No More: It tastes like a battery exploded in your mouth, and it lingers for a few minutes even after you take your fingers out of your mouth. The mere smell of the chemicals in the product (including isopropyl alcohol, butyl acetate, and nitrocellulose) made me dry heave at my desk.

    For a while, Bite No More worked. But after a full week of using the acrid solution, I found that while I certainly didn’t enjoy the taste of Bite No More, it no longer disgusted me. I had essentially become accustomed to it (I blame my love of whiskey and black coffee — clearly, I’m predisposed to becoming used to objectively bad tastes.)

    Ultimately, I had to ask myself: why did I enjoy biting my nails so much in the first place? I realized that I felt strangely good about myself after a nail-biting session. I would look at my freshly “groomed” nails and get a rush of endorphins, kind of like when you finally do your taxes or totally clear your inbox. Perhaps, this was what it was all about for me — not just the feeling of the biting itself, but the reward, too. At the end of the day, I had to ask myself if I was willing to give up this good feeling for healthier nails—and honestly, I wasn’t.

    At the end of the day, I wasn’t able to kick the nail-biting habit, but for those whose oral fixation isn’t as strong as mine, I suggest going with a nail-biting deterrent like Bite No More. Even though I eventually got used to the acrid taste, overall it seems to be the most effective method.

    In the end, it’s up to you: if you feel like biting your nails is getting in the way of living a happy life, then quit it. But if your biggest gripe is that it renders you unable to eat hot chicken wings (which, unless you’re making them at home, you probably shouldn’t be eating anyway), then you probably have more important things to worry about.

    By Jeremy Glass

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