I recently mentioned in this post about coffee creamer that I had successfully stopped biting my nails all through March, and now into April too. Wahoo! I’ve even posted about it a couple times on IG in a “series” I’m calling nail updates.
It’s not really a series. I just posted about it twice. But I like the idea of making it a series. And I’m also quite shocked that I’ve been feeling OK enough to share about it online. Over the years I’ve usually tried to hide my nails in photos because I know I will inevitably have someone comment about how I should stop biting them or how bad they look. And for me, Internet-meanness only really hurts when I sort of agree with the comment. So I’ve felt really ashamed about this bad habit for a long, long time now and often try to hide it.
Anyway, I’ve had lots of people connect with me over nail biting from these posts. Apparently I’m not the only one who has struggled with this bad habit for years and years. And there are so many different suggestions and solutions out there to try, so I thought I’d share what has worked best for me.
So for any of you that don’t know me, I’m Emma, I’m 30 years old, and I’ve been biting my nails for as long as I can remember. I have had a few times when I stopped for a month or more. The most successful I’ve ever been at not biting my nails was the six weeks before my wedding. I knew my hands would be in lots of photos that day (holding flowers, with my rings on, holding Trey’s hand, etc.), and I just didn’t want to have any of those important photos ruined for me because I hated how my fingernails looked in them. That motivated me enough to stop biting them long enough to grow them out at least some (enough that they weren’t completely terrible). But after the wedding, it did not stick at all.
I’ve tried lots of things over the years. I’ve been trying on and off to quit biting my nails since high school. I’ve tried fake nails, nail wraps, polish that tastes bad, getting a manicure, acrylics, wearing gloves a lot (I know, weird), and a few other random methods I either heard from friends or read online. I was sort of considering hypnosis but just didn’t trust it to work (apologies if anyone is really into that, I just didn’t think it would work for me). So… yeah… it felt like I tried almost everything.
Then a couple months ago, I was listening to a random episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast. Part of the episode touched on how we form habits and what makes us stick to habits. And the whole time I was listening, I kept thinking that maybe this could help me understand why I have this bad habit and what I can do to stop it. She has a new book out, Better Than Before, which I haven’t checked out yet, but it’s for sure on my list.
Anyway, the main thing I took away from it was this: I have a hard time following rules that I think are arbitrary (I’m a little bit of a rebel like that). I do well when I understand the goal. Like if my goal is to get an A in class, I can follow the rules or make a plan to get there (unless it’s math, then I’ll settle for a B). Even if it’s something I don’t really want to do, if I understand the big picture of why it’s important, I can generally make plans, goals, and habits that can get me where I want to go. The big exception for me is with things I deem arbitrary or unimportant. And I realized that I guess I put nail biting in that category. It doesn’t totally matter how your nails look, you will make it through life even with short, bitten off nails. I know this because I’ve done it for the past 15+ years. And when I’d hear someone say, in real life or on the Internet, something to the effect of, “You really should stop biting your nails,” or “Your nails look so terrible like that,” etc. there was a little voice inside me that kind of wanted to say, “So what? They’re my nails not yours, and I’ll do what I want.”
I told you. Total rebel. 🙂
So then I thought I could just do some research and figure out why nail biting is so bad for you (health-wise, or otherwise) and maybe that would unlock the key. It wouldn’t be so arbitrary anymore; I’d have a real reason to quit. I read a number of articles online and everything pretty much said the same thing. Nail biting is bad because it’s putting your germy hands in your mouth. Gross (or possibly makes your immune system stronger? I read one article that said that). Also it’s possible that long term nail biting may cause your nail beds to shrink or your nails to stop growing, become weaker, etc. There were some health concerns with nail biting, but not really enough to deter me if I am being honest. I was hoping for something like, “Studies show that nail biters live an average of 10 years shorter than non-nail biters.” But I just didn’t find anything that seemed to suggest that.
And it was at this point that I decided I should just give up on trying to trick the rebel in me that nail biting was going to kill me. It probably wasn’t. So instead, I tried to changed my mindset towards the whole thing. I tried to make it less about following an arbitrary rule and more of a daily decision that I could choose or not choose to follow. Because the truth is, I do in fact like biting my nails. But I also like having longer nails. And these two things can’t coexist. So everyday I allow myself to decide which it’s going to be for that day only.
Everyday, especially when I want to bite my nails, I tell myself, “If you want to bite your nails tomorrow, you can. Just don’t bite them today.” And I really mean it. I figure that if a day comes when I really want to bite my nails but I don’t let myself and the next day I regret it, I wish I HAD went ahead and allowed myself to bite my nails, then I can bite them. Why not? It’s arbitrary anyway. But so far everyday that I don’t bite them, I’m glad I didn’t. So I keep going. But everyday it’s something I think about and struggle with a little. Especially if I’m stressed out or in a highly social setting, as those tend to really trigger this bad habit for me.
And that’s it. It’s pretty simple. I just decide everyday what I’m going to do, and I only stick to it for that day. Then it starts over the next day.
Will this work forever? I don’t know. My crystal ball rarely works.
Are my nails the most beautiful, longest nails in the world? No. I don’t think I have a future in hand modeling as a career. 🙂
Do I miss biting my nails? Yes. Often.
Am I happy, or at least happier that for now I’ve kicked this bad habit? YESSSSS. I feel SO proud, you guys!
I know it’s totally silly, arbitrary, probably temporary, and maybe even a little ridiculous that I’m even still struggling with this at 30, but – I feel so good that I’ve been able to stop this bad habit this past (almost) two months. I am really enjoying painting my long-to-me nails. I decided that if I go until the end of April without biting them, I’m going to treat myself to some new nail polishes. I’ve been wanting to invest in some natural polishes but haven’t wanted to spend the $$$ if I was just going to keep biting my nails and not really use the polish. We’ll see if I make it.
There you go, over 1300 words on nail biting. This has kind of been my nightmare post because I seriously hate talking about my nails. Ha!
Here’s to trying to kick old, bad habits! It’s hard. It’s embarrassing. But there you are. 🙂 xx. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman
Thank you Emma! I have struggled with nail biting for all my life but I never tried this “just for a day” approach. I’m definitely going to try this. It sounds like something that will work for me. 🙂
Hi Emma , what you have written about yourself is as though you are writing about me . I am 35 year old and have struggled with nail biting . I was constantly nagged by my mother, husband , son and many relatives and friends . I stopped biting my nails 6 months ago during the corona virus epidemic . I was so paranoid about catching the virus that I just couldn’t bring my fingers to my mouth . It’s a miracle for me . I am so happy and constantly take photos of my nails . And to be honest I do miss biting my nail and the comfort it gave me .
I bit my nails for over 20yrs, and now in my late 20’s I have finally stopped. I had tried countless times, but would ultimately end up getting discouraged when I relapsed after a month or two. This time around, I woke up one day and really determined to make it happen. I actively took note of any time my hand gets close to my face. After the first month, I treated myself to sns powder nails with tips. Once I got used to having longer more beautiful nails, I did not want to go back. The powder makes nails pretty thick, and for me biting my nails was no longer appealing as the powder made them much harder. I did notice that I started almost tapping my nails on my teeth or on the table to counteract the urge as well. After 3 sets of powder nails, my real nails finally graduated to where they looked decent enough on their own. I still go in on a monthly basis to get a regular manicure. I find that keeping the ritual helps a lot. Granted after the first 6 weeks of powder nails I no longer had the urge to bite much. Still get the occassional tapping urge. It took a little over 6 months for me, but I’ve finally gotten my nails to the point I want them to be at.
For as long as I can remember I have been biting my nails and picking at my skin surrounding the nail. I would often spend hours subconsciously picking at the skin around my nail, sometimes to the point where it would bleed and get infected. Every time I would get motivated to finally break the habit and stop biting my nails, I felt like there was no product that could possibly help me until I stumbled across a product that worked for me. Bitter Gold is a clear odorless nail serum that is applied on nails like nail polish. The nail serum strengthens the nail, while healing the dry skin around the nail for those who pick the skin and tastes so bitter you won’t want to put your fingers in your mouth. Not only, did it help me stop biting my nails, but my nails grew in stronger than ever. I really recommend everyone who bites their nails to give Bitter Gold a try.
i don’t usually comment, but i just wanted to thank you. this post resonated with this anon. thank you <3
Oh man, I haven’t thought about this in years, but I too was a compulsive nail biter for as far back as I could remember (kindergarten or earlier.) I had a really stressful childhood, and I believe that contributed to the start of this nervous habit. The problem with quitting is YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOU’RE DOING IT until it’s too late and you’ve chewed through a nail.
I quit after I started college. It was a fresh start for me, leaving home, becoming independent, and I was determined to stop biting (and hiding) my nails. (I used to keep my fingers curled in and/or hidden against my arms or thighs all the time in public.) This is how I did it:
1. I bought pretty polishes and laid them on fairly thick, right on those horrible, chewed-off nails, and a little above the ends to seal off part of the skin, try to protect it from my teeth.
2. When my teeth hit the polish, it gave me the “jolt” I needed to notice that I had stuck a nail in my mouth, and I could try to stop.
3. When the compulsion was just too strong, I only bit the nails on my ring fingers and pinkies, so that I still had pretty nails on 2/3 of my hand.
4. Eventually I was able to reduce biting to pinkies only, and then to just “holding” a nail between my teeth without biting through. (Crazy how strong that oral fixation is!!!)
I still, 20 years later, sometimes hold a nail in my teeth, mostly when reading something in print or on the computer, but I promise you, you CAN stop biting your nails if you hang in there. I wish everyone the best of luck in this journey, because it’s not easy!
YAY! Good Job! This post made me so happy-the part about not caring about arbitrary rules is something I struggle with-along with nail biting, so I could totally relate. I laughed at the part where you googled if it’s harmful to your health, hoping to find a study saying it will shorten your lifespan. I ALWAYS google things hoping I find a “good enough” reason to care. FYI I’m also 30 and my nails are terrible little nubbs that take on the grunt of my stress. Poor things, really, but I’m also scared what nasty lil habit will pop up if I stop biting my nails!
I really relate to this! I don’t bite my nails, but I do pick at/bite my cuticles and the skin right around my nails. It’s embarrassing and I’ve tried so much to stop. I even told my boyfriend to tell me to stop anytime he catches me but nothing works! I think you’re right about the motivation factor – I always used “I want my hands to look better” as my motivation, but I need to find something less arbitrary. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what my fingers look like! I think I’ll start using your technique. First, often my fingers hurt from it, and sometimes bleed which is so uncomfortable – motivation! Second, telling myself I can do it tomorrow if I don’t today sounds like it might work. I don’t think I’ll regret NOT picking at them. Thanks for sharing this! It might feel silly, but it’s so relatable!
I always bite my nails unless I’m in love. Funny, huh? I always know I’m in love when I notice my nails are growing. I’m 36, though, and no lasting love… so the nails are bitten to the quick at the moment. I like your approach. I’ve been trying sometimes to find the feeling of centeredness and love inside myself each day, and sometimes that works for a bit.
What helped me the most to stop biting my nails was to pick just one nail that I could still bite & leave the other 9 alone. It really worked!
I remember I stopped biting my nails when I was a teen because a friend of mine also wanted to stop (she was using the bad tasting polish), and I guess I had someone to be accountable to. Plus she pointed out that it was a sign of nervousness, and bothered me (like, people might look at these nails and make assumptions that I’m nervous? Uh, no way, I have to maintain this facade of coolness)! Also know that once your nails get long enough it’s really satisfying to cut them all down again.
LOVE THIS!! Thank you, Emma! I struggle with this so much and it’s so encouraging to hear your process. Thank you for being honest about it being hard and also for how happy it’s making you!
I just want to know where your fab shirt is from!
I used to bite my nails, but that stopped the moment I went to nursing school. Germs, lots and lots of germs. Hope you can stick with it!
Thanks for the share! And the habit breaking tip. I know I’m an alcoholic and I struggle with drinking everyday. This same mantra is something I constantly have to battle. Sometimes by the hour. It’s good to know that it’s helped you for 2 months! Go guuurl!
Good for you!
And this is exactly how a colleague of mine goes about smoking. So far, she hasn’t smoked for over twenty years, taking it one day at a time. And then the next. And she still isn’t sure that there might not come a day on which she decides she does want to smoke on that day, but considers the chances quite slim (also knowing that that will make NOT smoking again the day after a lot harder).
Your strategy reminds of two things: one, being the gym quote I always hear – “You’ll never regret a workout,” meaning that you might hate exercising, but once it’s done, it’s done and you’re proud! Kinda like your nails. 🙂 and two, being what Kimmy Schmidt says on her eponymous show, that she can go through 10 seconds of anything (it makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen the pilot episode). So your version of 10 seconds is a day, and then the next day, and so on.
Thank you much for writing this!!! I have been a nail biter ever since I could chew (26 years?). People don’t understand why it’s so hard to stop – I bite them sometimes without even knowing that I’m doing it. I’m trying really hard to stop now because it’s so satisfying to be able to paint my nails. I still put my fingers in my mouth but don’t chew the nail – I guess kinda like putting a cigarette in your mouth without lighting it. It’s the ultimate test of will power!
Your fellow nail-biter, Nicola
Thanks for this post! You’ve got me thinking about my nails, which..I never do. I have hand eczema so I feel like my hands look bad anyway so my addition to biting my nails has never really bother me that much….other then how gross it is. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I don’t even know I am doing it, but I think I will try to free myself from it for one week and see what happens 🙂
Thank you for sharing your struggles & success with this! Cheering you on & looking for some hand modeling with the new polishes 😉