The effectiveness of this method has been tested for centuries.
Dopamine fasting is the hottest trend in healthy living. It was popularized by Cameron Sepah, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, a psychologist with an extensive practice in Silicon Valley (USA). Sepah tested this method on clients – investors and employees of large IT companies and startups. And he achieved amazing results. At the very least, dopamine starvation was the talk of the world’s leading publications.
What is dopamine starvation
It is a temporary, for an hour or a day, deliberate denial of pleasures. Sex, fast food, favorite movies, social media, music, and hobbies are all forbidden during the dopamine fast. But it is allowed to walk, think, meditate, write on paper, do household chores, cook and eat as simple food as possible, and communicate with your loved ones – but only face to face, not through gadgets.
Such a “post” without bright flavors, emotions, and entertainment looks boring. But that’s the point of it.
How Dopamine Deprivation Works
Cameron Sepa’s proposed dopamine diet is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic technique that allows people to take two important actions:
- Recognize (cognition) your illogical, negative thoughts, desires, needs, and habits and evaluate how they affect your life.
- Change behavior so as to reduce exposure to these factors.
Temporary abandonment of momentary pleasures allows us to look at the world with fresh eyes. For example, remember that even simple foods (bread, milk, cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables) have a rich flavor – we just don’t notice it because of the craving for salty, spicy fast food and sweets. To realize that a walk in the fresh air alone with our own thoughts is no less pleasurable than surfing social media. Or discover that the work you hate is actually interesting and even addictive if you’re not constantly distracted by your phone.
Boredom is essential to productivity. It makes any activity, even the ones you used to avoid, attractive. In the days following Lent, I was incredibly focused on getting work done. I have never been more productive!
Actually, awareness-raising is the main point of dopamine fasting according to Cameron Sep. By seeing and evaluating our habits from the outside, we are able to control them. And this improves the quality of life in general. This includes helping to lead a healthy lifestyle or performing miracles of efficiency.
In an effort to enhance this effect, some fans of the dopamine diet go even further. They reduce the number of pleasures to almost zero: they give up food, sports, sex, gadgets, talking, and even eye contact with people. The logic goes like this: the more you limit yourself, the brighter the “taste of life” will be after the fast is over.
But Cameron Sepa himself and other psychologists consider that this approach is incorrect. This mistake is caused by the incorrectness of the term “dopamine starvation.
What does dopamine have to do with it and why is the term “dopamine starvation” incorrect?
To understand the question, we need to remember what dopamine is. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (i.e., a chemical that transmits signals from brain neurons to body cells and back) that plays a crucial role in the learning process. It rewards us with a feeling of pleasure if we have done something that helps our body to survive and pass on its genes.
The most primitive example: we found a healthy berry and ate it, the brain evaluated the taste and the number of calories and released dopamine – we felt good. In this way, the neurotransmitter helped us form a so-called context dependent memory: “remember exactly what you ate, and come back here to experience the known pleasure again. Or we were praised for something, the brain realized that a kind attitude increased the chances of survival and released dopamine again. We felt good, we sought the reward again.
It is dopamine that guarantees that we will drink when we are thirsty, hide in the shade from the scorching sun, or not miss an opportunity to have sex with the right partner.
But in today’s world, it has become all too easy to get pleasant emotions. Eating a hamburger is the calories and the dopamine surge. You write a post on social media, there’s an attention span and another surge of dopamine. Scroll through a feed – feel a sense of involvement (“I’m not alone!”), and there’s that dopamine spike again. People get hooked on easily accessible pleasures. This is how addictions are formed.
The possibility of a quick reward distracts attention and does not allow one to focus on long-term goals. This is what the psychotherapeutic technique popularized by Cameron Sepa fights against. But not with dopamine per se.
Dopamine starvation is just a catchy and, as Sepa himself admits, “technically incorrect” term.
A person cannot physically control the levels of naturally present neurotransmitters in the body. Even if you give up pleasure completely, dopamine will not become less – only the number of momentary bursts, which do not affect the overall background, will be reduced.
It means that restricting yourself to absolutely everything, including food and communication, makes absolutely no sense. It will not bring additional productivity or a sharper sensation of life. It is enough to temporarily give up only some momentary pleasures.
How to organize an effective dopamine fast
It’s not difficult. Allocate some time regularly – a few hours or, let’s say, one day – and consciously limit yourself to those desires that are problematic for you personally. For example, if you can’t imagine life without a smartphone and social networks, during the period of dopamine starvation you should put aside all gadgets. Just “switch off” from the world of habitual pleasures.
Professor Sepa suggests the following schedule for dopamine fasting:
- 1-4 hours at the end of the day. Times may vary depending on your work and family needs.
- One day off per week. For example, Saturday or Sunday. Ideally, you should spend that day outside.
- One weekend -a quarter. It would be nice to spend it on a camping trip with loved ones. Or a trip to a neighboring town for sightseeing.
- One week a year. Combine the dopamine diet with a vacation.
The recommendations may seem trivial. And it is. Dopamine fasting is far from a novel idea. Any psychologist will tell you that sometimes you should take a break from gadgets, work, and news and devote time to simple things like walking and spending time with your family. In addition, in most of the world’s religions there are days prescribed to distract from work, to reflect in silence and calmness, to be alone with yourself and your loved ones.
So dopamine fasting is just a fancy new name for a centuries-old way to restore strength and redefine life values.