How I (Finally) Stopped Biting My Nails

And gained some peace of mind in the process.

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When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate sitting at my lunch table leaned over and looked at my hands. "Your nails are so long," she sighed. "I'm jealous." Up until that moment in my life, my nails had held no particular meaning or importance to me. Then I started biting them.

With red nail polish and unbitten nails, you can conquer the world. Photograph by Brayden Olson
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From middle school through most of college—a span of 10 years—I bit my nails. I gnawed them into unsightly tabs out of stress, mindlessness, and pure habit, all while attempting every trick in the book to quit the addiction.

Here, some of the tricks that should've worked but didn't, the ones that finally did, and the ones that helped me change my ways for good.

The Trick That Didn't Work: At-Home Manicures

Once that manicure starts to peel, it's all downhill.
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When your nails look good, you won't bite them: this is common logic, and it is also not necessarily true. If you're in the habit of biting your nails, you're also in the habit of putting your nails in your mouth, which will likely result in you peeling off polish with your teeth and then continuing to bite your nails. Gross, but true!

The Trick That Was Destined to Fail: Making My Nails Taste Bad

This tastes like regret.

Whether you use a foul-tasting top coat (specially formulated to help nail-biters stop their nail-biting) or ritually rub your nails with a hot pepper, this method will always end badly. If your nails are covered in a bitter or spicy substance, then anything you eat with your hands (Cheetos! Popcorn! Candy!) will also taste terrible. If you're a really persistent nail-biter, you'll also just end up peeling off this polish, too. Don't ruin the joy of eating with your hands. It doesn't have to be this way.

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The Trick That Was Well Intentioned: Wearing Fake Nails

Let us never again fall into the trap of thinking an acrylic French manicure evokes sophistication and poise.

At the tender age of 18, I decided to get a French-tipped acrylic manicure (don't judge—it was fashionable in my native New Jersey at the time) to feel glamorous at my senior prom. I had assumed that the fake nails would stop me from biting my nails long enough to break the habit. What I didn't assume was that once the acrylics were removed, my natural nails would be weak, peeling, and all the more tempting to gnaw off.

The Trick That Seemed Like It Would Work: Using Negative Reinforcement

Why are you hitting yourself?
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Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it sharply every time you find yourself biting your nails. Hypothetically, this negative reinforcement should help kick a nail-biting habit. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of nail-biting is done unconsciously, so it's hard to check your own behavior. Plus, no one wants to walk around with a rubber band on their wrist.

The Trick That Was My Turning Point: Trying Out Nail Jewelry

Regal Set Pack, $38,
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When I saw Rihanna rocking gold nail jewelry in Harper's Bazaar China, I was in awe. A few months later, I discovered AlleyCat Jewelry, and learned that I, too, could bedeck my nails in intricately designed gold-plated armor. I bought the jewelry and attached it to my nails using a thick top coat; at long last, I had a nail coating that I wouldn't pick off, and also wouldn't destroy my natural nail. I finally liked how my nails looked, and I stopped biting.

The Trick That Taught Me Nail Care: Carry a Nail File With Me

Crystal Nail File by Sephora Collection, $10,

When your nail shape is ragged and unsightly, a few more nibbles doesn't make much of a visual difference. But when you file your nails into neat ovals, they become much less tempting to bite. When a newly growing nail breaks, fight off the urge to bite it back into shape—use your file instead!

The Trick That Kept Me Going: Strengthening My Nails

Horse Power Nail Rescue Basecoat by Butter London, $18,

When you stop biting your nails, they finally have time to grow. But you'll find that, after years of gnawing, they'll be quite weak and prone to breaking. To grow them longer, they have to be strong, so it's best to turn to a good nail hardener. I found salvation in Butter London's Horse Power base coat. It's a pricey pick for a base, but several bottles later, it's kept my nails as tough as, well, nails.

The Trick That Gave Me Pretty Nails Today: Practicing Mindfulness

Look, Ma—no hands in my mouth!

For many people, nail-biting is a problem every bit as mental as it is physical. In order to stop any kind of habit, it's important to assess exactly how it was formed in the first place. For me, nail-biting was a result of anxiety. In a panic, I would find myself biting my nails, thinking, "I don't deserve to have nice nails right now." If I couldn't be perfect, neither could my nails—but eventually I realized that biting my nails would do nothing except create even more frustration and blame for myself. It was a vicious cycle, and it needed to end.

Now...time to build that nail polish collection. Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

When I finally got out of the habit of biting my nails, I started to see that the mental habit was even more destructive than the physical habit. Physical self-care is tied to mental self-care: when you quit biting your nails, you take care of yourself just a little better. When you pamper and groom yourself, you add a little love to your daily routine, and soon enough, small anxieties begin to melt away.

Plus, you get to enjoy fun nail polish colors all the more.

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