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A lifelong nail biter who made a pact with her husband to stop if he quit smoking has finally kicked the habit 20 years later - thanks to a £4.99 hypnosis app.
As many people begin to struggle with the New Year's resolutions they set for themselves, one person who will not be falling off the bandwagon is Lou Everard, 42, from Swindon.
Following decades of gnawing on her nails - sometimes biting them so far down that she would pull skin out of the nail bed - she has finally turned over a new leaf.
Now, after just three months of listening to a hypnosis app every night as she fell asleep, Lou has enviably long and strong talons - and has finally kept her end of the bargain when it comes to the pact she made 20 years ago with her husband James, 44, who works in software.
Lou, a communications officer for a research council, laughed: "We said when we first met in 1996 that James would stop smoking if I stopped biting my nails.
"We made our pact pretty much on the first date, as I hated smoking from the outset. He said if he stopped, I had to quit biting my nails, as that was my disgusting habit."
But Lou confessed: "He managed right away, but it's taken me 20 years. I tried everything, but as I did it so absent-mindedly, it was hard to stop. On our wedding day 2007, I even had to wear false nail tips to make mine look longer.
"Now, though, I can't believe how much better they look. I can't stop showing them off."
Ever since she was a child, Lou, mum to twin girls, Lydia and Grace, 10, has bitten her nails.
Over the years, she tried everything from nail biting solution, which leaves a harmless but bitter taste in the mouth when swallowed, to splashing out on expensive manicures in the hope she would be motivated to leave them alone.
She explained: "I figured if I had them done nicely, I wouldn't want to chip or tear them. But I'd bite them without even really realising.
"I would also try to use fake nails, to give my real ones a chance to grow, but one would always end up pinging off, then I'd pick away at the glue and leave more damage."
On a couple of occasions, Lou would have a little success and manage to refrain from biting her nails - but, where they had been weakened by years of her having them in her mouth, they would then break of their own accord.
As she gave up hope of ever being able to kick her habit, Lou would look enviously at the long, elegant nails of her friends and, at times, she even found herself self-consciously scrunching up her hands to hide her own.
"I resigned myself to the fact I would never have nice nails," she said. "I would notice myself hiding my hands, especially in things like job interviews, when you are meant to look smart.
"Or, I'd go the other way and make a point of bringing up my nails and the state of them. It came from being embarrassed, so wanting to put it out there myself before other people did."
With her nails - and the skin around them - chewed away, Lou would find that simple tasks, like picking something up off the floor, became difficult.
"Opening something like a can of fizzy drink would hurt, as the skin was so raw," she said. "It was also little things you take for granted, like being able to find the end of a roll of Sellotape, or pick a needle up off the floor, that became hard with no nails."
Then, towards the end of 2018, Lou had a light-bulb moment when she read about 'Stop Nail Biting Hypnosis', a £4.99 app by Sue Peckham and James Holmes.
Based on hypnotherapy and mindfulness, it has audio sessions, a photo diary to track progress, reminder alerts and a top tips section - and works by helping users relieve the stress and anxiety that triggers nail biting, re-programming their minds.
Lou said: "I have a very busy life, and always like to be on the go, so the app was perfect as I can just put it on for 10 minutes before I go to sleep. I have listened to it religiously every night since October, and almost always fall asleep before the end.
"I did worry that meant it wouldn't work, but the messages must still go into my subconscious, as I haven't bitten my nails since the first time I used it."
Insisting that she is sure that she will never return to her old habit, Lou continued: "I feel different now, like the urge simply isn't there.
"Now, I make a conscious decision not to put my nails anywhere near my mouth. They are so much stronger, I've never had nails like this.
"I'm really proud of them, and James is happy I'm finally upholding my end of the pact we made 20 years ago."
Well done, Lou - let's hope you don't go back on your word now it's been made very public.
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