Could you deprive yourself of life’s pleasures to improve your brain? 

Dopamine fasting is the latest buzzword in the world of wellness, backed and practiced some of the biggest names of Silicon Valley. Considered as the ultimate workout for the brain, dopamine fasting focuses on reducing the chemical that enables us to feel all those good things like joy, happiness, adrenaline, and the basic sense of accomplishment. 

The fast contains not using anything connected to things that bring us dopamine – this includes food, sex, technology, social media, drugs, alcohol, and more. The goal is to be able to reset your brain and focus on what really matters by cutting out all of the small but commonly-used things in life that are considered a privilege. 

Due to international coverage, dopamine fasting is quickly becoming a widespread trend – but is there any truth to it? In this article, we’ll break down exactly what it does to your body, how does it work, who started this trend, and whether or not it’s actually safe. 

Dopamine fasting: the basics

At the end of the fast, your mind should be clearer and sharper. You should have the power to have self-control over the entertainment triggers present in today’s world and focus on what actually matters. 

In order to understand this trend, we have to take a look at what dopamine itself actually is. Human beings rely on dopamine as the chemical that signals the brain some of the most basic functions and rewards including motor control, memory, and arousal. A dopamine deficiency is usually a result of either the body’s drop of the chemical levels or a problem with the brain receiving dopamine in the first place. 

But fasting from dopamine is completely different from being deficient of it – you’re the one in control of the fasting. It’s indeed possible to limit the brain’s exposure to various dopamine rewards in order to minimize unwanted overstimulation habits such as social media and addiction to technology. 

Here’s what is recommended to do during the fast: 

  • Write and journal, using your pen and paper
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Walk
  • Visualize your goals
  • Drink the recommended daily water intake

Benefits of the fast

The goal of dopamine fasting is to reset the brain – to reconnect with what truly matters and rewire typical dopamine triggers to stop being dependent on the external factors. Every person has a different way of doing this fast – some take it as far as cutting off any social activities, including eye contact. The length depends on each person.

Fasting often lasts for 24 hours, though some experts recommend doing it for longer durations. However long you choose, at the end of the fast your mind should be clearer and sharper with the power to have self-control over the entertainment triggers present in today’s world and focus on what actually matters.

How it works

The fast was popularized by the Silicon Valley psychologist, Dr. Cameron Sepah. He claims that the inspiration behind dopamine fasting came from ‘stimulus control’, a behavioral therapy technique used to treat addicts by gradually removing their triggers. His first clients were Silicon Valley CEOs who wanted to improve both their health and their performance.

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Similar to drug addicts, high-profile CEOs tend to be addicted to technology as well as stressful behaviors in their day-to-day lives. CEOs like Elon Musk could easily have 80-hour workweeks, full of stress, confrontation, and an endless list of things that need to be done. Dr. Sepah recommends short-term abstention in order to rewire the brain and create a sense of balance in their stressful lives.

Reportedly, the practice is well-received by his clients because improves both their mood and productivity.

Can dopamine fasting become dangerous?

Experts note that the trend is more of a fad rather than a controlled study.

The health industry is extremely skeptical of this new Silicon Valley trend and its benefits. It’s important to understand that the chemical’s relationship to arousal and pleasure isn’t as straightforward as we may believe. The claim behind the statement that avoiding technology reduces dopamine levels doesn’t actually hold any concrete evidence backed up by significant studies. 

Experts note that the trend is more of a fad rather than a controlled study. And while it’s true that limiting social media access and technology can be good for your health, it is unlikely that dopamine reduction is directly responsible for the benefits of the fast. Doctors state that it can be just as relaxing to take a break from stressful activities, without going through such extreme ways. 

Is the term “dopamine fast” even accurate?

Neuroscientist Judson Brewer explained that you can’t really stop anticipating something. Even if you deprive yourself of things that excite you, your brain will subconsciously wish for them.

While it’s definitely not bad to reframe habits that affect our time in a negative way, it’s important to know that doing this might not reduce dopamine levels at all. With that in mind, even the term ‘dopamine fasting’ is being questioned by science. 

Judson Brewer, a Brown University neuroscientist, explained that you can’t really stop anticipating something. Even if you deprive yourself of things that excite you, your brain will subconsciously wish for them. He dismisses the trend as yet another extreme way by which people try to become better, without really understanding the science of the brain. While the fast can’t be dangerous, science doesn’t believe it’s actually beneficial for long-term purposes. 

Things to consider if you want to try it

If you’re preparing to do dopamine fast, it’s important to understand your reasons behind it. While depriving yourself of pleasures for a single day might not do much, creating a balanced lifestyle may be slightly more beneficial in the long-term. Some of the alternatives of the fast include spending more time in nature, reconnecting with friends, strength training, writing, and reading more books. 

Many experts believe that moderating desires can be more rewarding than completely abstaining from everything.

As you consider what you want to do and why you want to do it, Brewer cautions that fasting for one day per week will only deprive yourself of your basic desires. Since you can’t control your brain’s cravings, you’ll continue coming back to them whether you like it or not.

Instead, you should permanently teach your brain which activities are actually rewarding and which are not. For example, scrolling through Instagram shouldn’t bring you as much validation as it should when you reconnect with your friends. Rewiring your brain into appreciating real connections can be much more rewarding than completely depriving yourself of any.

Many experts believe that moderating desires can be more rewarding than completely abstaining from everything. And according to Brewer, this can be achieved through mindfulness. Through mindfulness, your brain becomes fully aware of what, how, and why it’s doing something or reacting to something. Dopamine fasting may complement this technique without requiring you to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. 

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