Dopamine fasting’s claim to fame started in tech-saturated Silicon Valley and essentially entails forgoing pleasurable (and some argue, addictive) activities that boost the production of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. This can mean scrolling social media, eating junk food, playing video games, drinking, and even having sex or masturbating.
This may sound extreme, but it was born of noble intentions. The idea of dopamine fasting first came around in 2016 and was recently re-popularized by a UCSF psychology professor and venture capitalist named Cameron Sepah, who, according to Business Insider, “was looking for a way for himself and his clients to better maintain focus, disconnect from their devices, regulate emotions, and not get swept up in to a culture of constant notifications, arousal, and bingeing.”
Essentially, dopamine fasting is meant to give the brain a reset from the over-stimulating modern world of technology and social pressures and allow creativity to flow and productivity to increase. This sounds actually quite reasonable, but we might need to rebrand this type of “fast.”
Dopamine has been dubbed the brain’s “pleasure chemical,” and cheap and easy hits from Instagram likes, phone games, happy hour cocktails, and online shopping are an addictive and maybe not-so-healthy way to milk it. But dopamine is so much more than that. Our drive, inspirations, and motivations are all thanks to dopamine. Pleasure is the result of accomplishing what we desire to achieve and what helps us find motivation or desire to work towards something.
Thus, at the end of the day, you can’t completely refrain from dopamine. Little bits of dopamine are produced every time you do something necessary for your body. When you’ve been holding in that 9am pot of green tea and you finally get to use the restroom? Boom, dopamine. When you’re starving and someone hands you some unsalted almonds that you’d otherwise find boring but right now find oh-so-satiating? Dopamine. When you finally lay your head on the pillow after an eternity of a day? Ahh, dopamine. Without dopamine at all, we’d essentially have to be catatonic, or a monk on a vow of silence (Which, actually, sounds kind of cool. The monk, not the catatonia.)
Abstaining from all things pleasurable for the sake of a mental reset won’t reduce your desire for pleasurable things. That said, taking a dopamine “fast” to a more wellness-related realm can be very beneficial. Abstaining from social media for a few days, or limiting your amount of time scrolling per day, is great for your emotional health, not to mention reduces eye strain. You may notice a boost in productivity simply due to lack of distraction; quite literally, the amount of time previously spent on social media is now being directed elsewhere.
Similarly, taking a break from junk food or alcohol can result in more energy, better sleep, and better productivity. Reserving stimulating or exciting activities as rewards for productive achievements is a great way to mitigate practices of bingeing or deprivation. Since anticipation of reward is the true pleasure feeling behind dopamine, saving these stimulating activities for later isn’t really dopamine fasting at all. In fact, it’s dopamine stoking.
In the end, neurologists suggest that total dopamine fasting is not entirely possible. From a wellness standpoint, we think there are valuable suggestions to pull from it. But here at Poosh, we’re all about balance. So as long as you get your work done and your workout in, smash that like, have that glass of cab.