Chronic nail biter seeks help!
January 1, 2009 10:33 PM   Subscribe

Help me quit biting my nails!

I've never been a drinker or smoker - never tried drugs. But since I can ever remember I've been a chronic nailbiter.

I've tried the nail glaze that tastes like crap, and it didn't make a difference. Chewing gum doesn't either.

Even when I make extended efforts to conciously not bite my nails, I still catch myself gnawing.

Its a horrible habit, makes my fingers look like crap, and can sometimes be quite painful.

Any suggestions or ideas for an extreme case like mine?
posted by Unsomnambulist to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I had the same problem.

The one and only trick that worked (and works WONDERS) is simple: chewing individual uncooked rice grains.

I would carry around a tiny bag of uncooked rice in my pocket and would chew/gnaw one grain at a time in my mouth throughout the day. As soon as the grain disintegrated I would pop another one in. Keeping my mouth busy playing/chewing/gnawing uncooked rice stopped my nail biting overnight.

It is dirt cheap, invisible, and really effective.
posted by Spurious at 10:54 PM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Get nailfiles and good nail clippers. As soon as you bite your nail, even once, file it, and smooth it out. Clip your nails regularly when they become even slightly long.

Worked for me, though I've gone back a bit lately. Need to get a new, good nail file.
posted by SansPoint at 10:57 PM on January 1, 2009

I had to put good nail files everywhere. I bought the ones at Walgreen's made out of glass and put them in cars, in rooms, in office, everywhere.

When I caught myself biting a nail, I would file.

It took awhile and I still catch myself. I tried to stop for years and haven't lasted nearly as long as I have this time.

Good luck.
posted by tcv at 11:14 PM on January 1, 2009

I was a nail-biter for my entire childhood and teen years. The only thing that finally stopped me was a job at which my nails got nasty dirty black crud under them all day. One day I realized I just didn't want to put that in my mouth.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:43 PM on January 1, 2009

I chewed my nails for at least 20 years to the point they bled and looked horribe. I finally stopped last year after Many attempts. What worked for me this time was stopping all chewing right away by redirecting the energy or slapping my hand jokingly, fiddling elsewise with my nails, etc...

This took huge amounts of willpower.

After a week or so I had grown back enough of my nails and redirected my chewing angst into "keeping them long angst" (a good trade). It's been over a year now and I haven't had a problem since. Trading one nervous habit to an other habit seemed to work for me.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:47 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

This habit for me is like other body focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) and is similar to trichotillomania (hair pulling) and skin-picking. So various hints, ideas, tools, and strategies that work for hair-pulling may be helpful. YMMV, but here are some ideas:

+ Have compassion for yourself. Quitting these habits can be *so* challenging. Folks who have quit smoking and are now trying to quit a BFRB have described it as "Like trying to quit smoking when there's a cigarette permanently glued to your lips."

+ Try a search for "Trich" on AskMe or other online sources. Even if the specific suggestions are not directly what you need, the overall approach may be something you can learn from. For example, take the idea of a physical barrier - a trichster might wear a hat or banadana to make hair inaccessible, while a nail biter might experiment with different kinds of gloves as a barrier...but if a trichster suggestion is the idea of a physical barrier, think how that may be helpful to you, then come up with one for your situation. (Maybe finger cots?)

+ The TLC website has lots of relevant ideas, resources. Plus, support groups may welcome/include nail-biters - if the site lists a support group in your area, it's worth a call.

+ Some of my favorite strategies are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies, increasing awareness through logging of urges, practicing feeling the urge and choosing not to act on it, mindfullness, exercise, meditation, daily logging of positives, support groups, and tools/resources from TLC retreats.

Good luck!
posted by quinoa at 1:43 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about getting a nice, expensive manicure along with trying some other tricks? Maybe pain and a nasty taste doesn't make a difference, but if money motivates you at all you won't want to ruin those nice nails.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:42 AM on January 2, 2009

SansPoint's nail file trick helped immensely for me - I try to keep nail files everywhere these days (car, office, kitchen, bedside...). But the thing that stopped my 30-year+ habit was anti-anxiety meds (SSRIs), plus CBT (the therapy mentioned above, not the kink).

So damned happy I keep a picture of my first set of 10 nails in my PDA.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:06 AM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: I bit my nails from childhood until my early 20s. I quit a single finger at a time: first it was OK to bite any nail but pinkies, then pinkies and ring finger, etc. By thumb-only time I wasn't biting them at all anyway. I think this worked because it made me pay attention to when I was doing it but didn't have any unpleasant guilt associations, just "wrong nail, bite another one". Punishing bad habits by attaching any sort of negative feedback when we catch ourself at the habit--even with thoughts like "how weak am I that I can't stop biting my nails?" or "look at how terrible my nails are; I should be ashamed"--makes us want to avoid that negative feedback, but I think at a certain unconscious level we don't care whether we stop the feedback by actually stopping the habit or by stopping the noticing and punishing.
posted by fidelity at 8:38 AM on January 2, 2009

I stopped biting my nails in college by wearing a rubber band around my wrist and snapping it whenever I caught myself biting them. I pretty quickly transferred to playing obsessively with the rubber band, but I figured it was better than biting my nails. Eventually I switched to wearing a bracelet instead of a rubber band.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:20 AM on January 2, 2009

I feel your pain. I was a nail biter for about 11-12 years from like 5th grade until I graduated college. At that point enough was enough and I decided I needed to stop since first of all it looked ugly, made me look ill-mannered and only caused pain really.

I just made a conscience effort to stop biting. When you've done it for so long it definitely is an subconscious thing to do, so it took a lot of catching myself in the act and just having the will and control to stop. Even now I still bite my cuticles (or the edge of the nail on top which has to be a thin sliver of the cuticle) but never the nail itself. If I begin I stop immediately and try to smooth it out. I've kept it up for almost 5 years now. No gimmicks really worked you just have to decide to do it and then stick to it no matter how strong the urge.

Keeping your mouth occupied helps, with gum or even that rice suggestion above. Really you need to think more about the bad things it does for you than any benefit you get. Also I second cutting your nails short and keeping them trim, it cuts down temptation. After a few months the urge will go away and you'll wonder how you ever made your fingers bleed once upon a time.
posted by PetiePal at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2009

Thinking about the number of germs that were probably all over my nails helped me quite a bit.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:33 PM on January 2, 2009

I quit after a 29-year habit this year, and I found a combination of all of the following worked:

-- That disgusting-tasting stuff
-- Buying expensive nail polish and using that to reward myself. Polish looks bad on chewed nails, and so I found that painting them stopped me from chewing them because I wanted them to look good. Plus, it was an in-built reward system - a new bottle for each milestone. It worked well for me as I'm a makeup junkie, and now have 20 bottles.
-- Allowing myself to still bite 1 nail per hand (clearly not fully recovered, but allows me to still accidentally fall off the wagon but not wreck all my nails).
posted by chronic sublime at 11:35 PM on January 4, 2009

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