The Truth About Dopamine Fasting
Tue, April 20, 2021

The Truth About Dopamine Fasting

One of the many Silicon Valley biohacks and wellness trends that have been gaining popularity throughout the years is “dopamine fasting” / Photo by: Alexey Ulashchick via Shutterstock

 

This era is gradually being defined by long working hours and fierce competition in various industries, particularly in Silicon Valley: a city famed for creativity and technological development. It is home to many of the world’s brightest developers, technicians, and engineers. At the same time, Silicon Valley is considered a start-up paradise, which is why thousands of ambitious entrepreneurs find their luck in the city. 

In this highly competitive space, workers are forced to push themselves to the absolute limit. This is why biohacking, the practice of changing our chemistry and our physiology through science and self-experimentation to energize and enhance the body, has become popular in Silicon Valley. According to Insider, an online site that features all the adventures life has to offer, this is their attempt to enhance the human body's physical and mental performance. 

The research report on the Global Biohacking Market conducted by Market Research Future (MRFR) revealed that the market is growing continuously. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.42% from 2017 to 2023, which is mainly driven by the rising awareness about biohacking, extensive demand of smart devices and drugs across the globe, and increasing prevalence of chronic diseases. 

"People here [in Silicon Valley] have a technical mindset, so they think of everything as an engineering problem," Serge Faguet, a Silicon Valley-based millionaire, said. Faguet himself is a fan of biohacking to preserve his health and help him live forever, using a sleep-tracking smart ring, a $6,000 hearing aid, and an implanted glucose monitor. 

One of the many Silicon Valley biohacks and wellness trends that have been gaining popularity throughout the years is “dopamine fasting.” The idea of dopamine fasting comes from the fact that we may be getting too much of a good thing in today’s attention economy. This aims to regain control over how people spend their time. 

However, does dopamine fasting – abstaining from addictive things like tech, coffee, and even sex – truly help us? Is there any scientific evidence behind it?

How Dopamine Fasting Began

While dopamine fasting was only recently popularized by University of California, San Francisco psychology professor and venture capitalist Cameron Sepah, the term was first coined in 2016 on Reddit. It involves taking a time-out from presumed “pleasurable” and “problematic” behaviors, including gaming, social media, sex, masturbating, eating, and thrill-seeking. Dopamine fasting, according to Sepah, is a way to disconnect from their devices, maintain focus, regulate emotions, and control oneself in a culture of constant bingeing, arousal, and notifications. 

According to BBC, a British public service broadcaster, dopamine fasting follows the idea that by avoiding these common stimulants that have controlled our lives, we can decrease the amount of dopamine in our brain. Biochemist James Sinka believes that regular quick ‘hits’ of dopamine make us numb. “You’re trying to undo that built tolerance. That allows you to reflect and to look at the bigger picture, to reassess. When you start to re-engage all those different stimuli, they’re more engaging than they originally were,” he said. 

Dopamine fasting is based on a behavioral therapy technique called ‘stimulus control’, which essentially removes all triggers to help addicts get away from their addiction / Photo by: Ekaterina Markelova via Shutterstock

 

Dopamine fasting is based on a behavioral therapy technique called ‘stimulus control’, which essentially removes all triggers to help addicts get away from their addiction. While one can’t abstain from technology, this practice can provide a limit for people, allowing our brains to reset a bit. According to Sepah, his patients report improvements in their ability to focus, their mood, and their productivity. These give them more free time for other healthy behaviors.

In one study, college students who used Facebook for about two hours a day took a one week break from it. The results showed that the participants reported more ‘healthy behavior.’ “They said they ate out less, made fewer impulse purchases, were more efficient with time and reported feeling significantly less depressed,” Sepah said.

Is Dopamine Fasting Real?

Dopamine fasting primarily aims for one thing: to reduce dopamine. However, dopamine is not under our control. Dopamine, a pleasure chemical released by the brain that plays an integral role in reward and motivation, can’t be controlled because it’s human nature to anticipate things. It prompts us to want things that make us feel happy, which will not change just because we stop doing certain activities.

According to Business Insider, a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals, Stanford neuroscientist Russell Poldrack stated that dopamine fasting doesn't change our ability to feel the pressure. Instead, it will only change the degree at which we want things. Joydeep Bhattacharya, lead researcher of cognitive and neuroscience at Goldsmiths, University of London, stated that dopamine fasting might trigger a greater number of thoughts about the things from which a person is abstaining. “The moment we try to abstain, naturally our brain will crave that – so there will be more of dopamine release,” she said. 

Dr. David Greenfield, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, suggests that people should go through detox periods instead of dopamine fasting. According to Live Science, a news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, it is recommended that people enter a "period of abstinence" instead of completely abstaining from problematic behaviors to reset the brain's reward system. 

In a technology-driven era, it’s easy for us to lose control over our time and even ourselves. While it’s okay to initiate ways to help our body and mind, it’s also important to make sure that these ways will not harm us. 

Dopamine fasting primarily aims for one thing: to reduce dopamine. However, dopamine is not under our control. Dopamine, a pleasure chemical released by the brain that plays an integral role in reward and motivation / Photo by: Shidlovski via Shutterstock