By now, you’ve heard of the good stuff—dopamine—a famous euphoric chemical in the brain. Throughout our life, what triggers our brains to produce dopamine can shift. Dopamine can be received in both toxic and beneficial ways. It’s actually quite addictive. It’s the sensation that those who suffer from any form of addiction experience, otherwise known as the force that draws them beyond their restraint.
Sources of Dopamine
We can produce dopamine from things like social media and unhealthy food, or sunshine and the act of giving. The range is, in a word, complicated. What triggers our dopamine is automatic, like receiving rays of light from the sun, or chemicals from a drug. In others, it’s a result of our conditioning. These are the types of triggers we can control. This is the logic behind a dopamine fast.
What is Dopamine Fasting?
Dopamine fasting, a concept popularized by San Francisco psychologist Dr. Cameron Sepah, is an exercise that involves limiting the amount of dopamine in the brain. The overall goal is to achieve a state where the brain has been rewired to find more focus and joy in activities, cleansed from conditioning.
At first thought, it might bring to mind the science behind intermittent diet fasting. Intermittent fasting consists of restricting oneself from eating by eating during specific time windows, with the goal of allowing the system to cleanse and not overeating.
This is somewhat of a direct approach as you have full control of what you choose to eat. Dopamine is not the same. We might receive unexpected triggers. In considering how a shortage of dopamine can lead to all sorts of imbalances and problems, is it an ambitious endeavor to try and manipulate it?
How It Works
The alleged promise of dopamine fasting is a sort of “detox” from the chemical. Detoxing is a useful tool with various things in life. Your closet? Could always use a detox. Your exposure and time spent digitally? Could also use a detox. As previously mentioned, intermittent fasting is a sort of beneficial detox as well.
All of these things could use a reset every now and then, so it makes sense that your dopamine levels and what makes you feel good could benefit this way, too.
Dopamine fasting implements actions like limiting anything that feels good—food, sex, social media, alcohol, and even eye contact and exercise. These are all the things that strike big in your brain’s reward system, which are intended to be now restricted.
But does it Work?
Business Insider investigated data that suggested that some people (specifically, notoriously work-driven Silicon Valley enthusiasts), have benefited and are raving about the effects. It gathered that while it might just be a good idea to limit things that enable addictive behavior, that the product of a dopamine fast is just that: a good idea from the core.
The Problem with Decreasing Your Dopamine Levels
Dopamine, while a neurotransmitter that can and indeed does make us feel good, has other functions. This is the bottom line of why a dopamine fast may not be fully considered a legitimate wellness practice. A lack of dopamine can cause a person to be unwell, too.
However, this is not simply because we are in a deficit of “happy” feelings. Dopamine also signals our brains for drive, motivation, and desire. If vices primarily drive a person, limiting these behaviors will probably be wise. But all dopamine? Not wise.
Without dopamine flowing, we wouldn’t have the inner desire to do much of anything at all. It would be as though there is no point, and our system has shut off.
A Word on Restriction
Another possible downside of dopamine fasting may be the overarching concept of restrictive behavior. Having goals is fantastic. Having discipline is admirable. Yet, boundaries are essential when attempting to restrict yourself from things in life. A restriction that is not sustainable in good health can be dangerous, and if you can believe it—just as addictive.
This is one of the top causes in the development of some eating disorders. Restriction is perfectly okay in moderation, but for extended periods of time, it can trick the brain into working in ways that are ultimately harmful.
This is all to say, if you’re considering a dopamine fast to find more discipline and challenge yourself, there are other ways. It might be worth it to take baby steps before an extreme plunge.