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What is dopamine fasting? Meet the dangerous fad among Silicon Valley's tech geniuses

Dopamine fasting has become a popular strategy for regaining the ability to feel pleasure when disconnecting from technology. Here we tell you what it consists of, what risks it entails and how (or if at all) it works.

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This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Technology has been part of our lives for a long time, but since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, it is almost impossible to live disconnected. Such excess connection and stimulation has revived a dangerous fad among Silicon Valley workers: dopamine fasting .

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Although dopamine fasting was installed a couple of years ago in that corner of San Francisco, this 2021 has returned with more force. The reason is simple: we have been constantly connected to electronic devices for more than a year.

Since the pandemic broke out and the lockdowns began, many of us have depended on our computers and a good internet connection to work, study, socialize and entertain ourselves, as well as to buy food, pantry, clothes and of course, more gadgets!

As you can imagine, entrepreneurs, creators, engineers, programmers and others involved in the 'tech' world, whose epicenter of innovation is Silicon Valley, are perhaps among the people who spend the most time surrounded by gadgets and connected to different networks.

Faced with this 'overconnection' , many have chosen to implement a kind of periodic technological detox , which they call dopamine fasting . The goal is to deprive the brain of the many stimuli that make it produce constant dopamine discharges, to regain the ability to feel and get excited with more subtle things, as well as reconnect with our being.

The hypothesis behind dopamine fasts

The devotees of this practice affirm that the stimuli produced by the cell phone , the tablet , the computer , the television , the video games and any gadget of this type, causes dopamine surges . Even food , sexual activity and even body movement are on the list of triggers for this neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is associated with pleasant and relaxing sensations , and with the release of 'rewards' in the brain each time we perform a task. likewise, it is related to the regulation of our motivation.

"Dopamine release can be triggered by a variety of external stimuli, especially salient and unexpected events," Joshua Berke, professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, told the BBC.

By being connected and using these devices all day, our body gets used to the feeling of constant satisfaction , which generates a type of addiction and resistance to stimuli . That is, we already need dopamine highs just to feel good and stable, but we require those stimuli to be stronger and stronger to achieve the same sensation of pleasure.

The absence of these shocks can cause in some people body stiffness, tremors, weakness and lack of concentration, with continuous episodes of bad mood and lack of motivation in general.

Thus, fasting dopamine would serve to counteract this effect somewhat. With the disconnection, it is sought to deprive the body of these discharges to make it unaccustomed to receiving constant stimuli. The result would be a reconnection with our own emotions , as well as re-sensitize ourselves and enjoy the little pleasures , as before we lived surrounded by technology.

How do you do a dopamine fast?

This practice goes beyond a digital detox, in which you only stay away from technology, as it consists of disconnecting from ALL the stimuli that could produce dopamine surges . The idea is to seek absolute boredom and minimize pleasure, so dopamine fasting can include:

  • Turn off all gadgets: cell phone, tablet, computer, television, video game console, virtual assistant, etc. This is the only indispensable point, the others are optional but highly recommended.
  • Eat as little food as possible, especially avoiding foods rich in sodium or carbohydrates.
  • Remain as still as possible, although there are those who integrate activities such as yoga or a little exercise.
  • Eliminate the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and narcotics.

There are also those who even prefer to avoid interaction with other people , music and artificial lighting , as well as sexual stimuli , whether alone, as a couple or through adult material.

Therefore, someone who is fasting on dopamine could stay at home, not getting out of bed other than what is necessary and eating very little or nothing. There are even those who practice it simultaneously with another very popular plan in Silicon Valley, but also highly questioned by doctors and nutritionists: intermittent fasting .

In addition, practitioners of this habit report that, in the absence of distractions, they can reflect on things that they overlook on a day-to-day basis, because the pace of life is so fast that there is hardly ever time to take a break and meditate, to think before doing.

The goal is that, after this period of 'withdrawal' , our brain is no longer overstimulated and we are able to fully enjoy less intense sensations.

How long should a dopamine fast last?

This technique can be done for a whole day, although some specialists recommend that it be 3 to 7 days to have the best result.

Dr. Cameron Sepah, one of the leading proponents of dopamine fasting, posted his ' Definitive Guide to Dopamine Fasting ' on LinkedIn, and it went viral. He recommends implementing this strategy daily for between one and four hours, once every weekend, one weekend every four months, or one week per year, depending on 'tolerance' and self-control capacity. Those who are already used to the method, can do it between 5 and 30 minutes one to three times a day, advises the specialist.

It is very common (and quite prudent) to notify family, friends and co-workers that you will be offline and will not be able to answer calls and / or messages.

The dangers of dopamine fasting

Although, it sounds very tempting to disconnect for a single day to 'reset' our response to external stimuli and reconnect with our being, this practice carries certain health risks and there is still no scientific evidence that it works.

First, it should be clarified that dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is always present in our brain , so suppressing it completely is impossible. As such, it is not a chemical that we can develop dependence on, as is the case with other substances.

Cutting all these elements would not cause us a deficit of the neurotransmitter, but their levels would return to the standard values that our body needs. What fasting seeks is to help it return to its natural balance , disabling the brain to the constant discharges of dopamine, which cause us to need more and more to achieve the same effect (resistance).

However, some researchers have warned that this withdrawal period has similar effects to other disorders, such as bulimia.

Many cases have been found in which, after being subjected to the abrupt and radical limitation of everyday stimuli, people feel a strong urge to immediately resort to the elements that trigger the rush of dopamine. There are also those who report a deep sense of disappointment , not perceiving a real or drastic change after going through the experience.

Therefore, dopamine fasting practitioners are at risk of falling into extreme and impulsive behaviors : spending too many hours online checking notifications of everything they missed on social networks or responding to messages, spending a sleepless night playing video games or compulsive eating (for usually junk food).

To avoid this compensating effect , it is recommended that those who are going to do a dopamine fast prepare in advance consciously. It is advisable to meditate beforehand, apply 'mini fasts' of one or two hours the previous days and schedule the day or days of disconnection in the middle of other normal activities, to avoid falling into excesses at the end.

There is nothing wrong with being connected, be it out of practical necessity or for sheer pleasure. The problem is when this becomes a need that can affect our quality of life, preventing us from enjoying other things that are healthier and provide us with greater well-being, such as meditating, cultivating our hobbies offline, being with family and friends, living with people. in general and exercise, among others.