If it happens in Silicon Valley and everyone with an internet connection hears that it’s happening in Silicon Valley, does it mean that it should be happening? The “it” in question is the rapid rise of dopamine fasting. Bay Area execs are abstaining from the addictive stuff—tech, coffee, sex—for a week (or even months) to reset their minds, recharge their bodies, and reclaim their lives.

So what exactly is dopamine?

Dopamine is a pleasure chemical released by the brain that plays a huge role in motivation and reward. (You indulge in a glass or two of Cabernet, your brain begins to link that wine as a feel-good escape method.) But over time, that reward is dulled and it takes more to stoke it.

Dana Humphrey, 36, did a four-month fast earlier this year after a breakup with her partner. “I was self-love deficient,” says Humphrey, who runs a public relations firm in Queens, NY. Her fast included getting eight hours of sleep, going to yoga, and staying celibate. How is she feeling now? “I’m more tuned into my body and able to listen to my true inner wants and needs versus just reacting to them.”

Before you dive in dopamine first, here are five things you need to know:

#1: It can help you de-stress

If you’re the kind of person who thrives on continuous excitement (or stress), dopamine fasting might be able to help you recalibrate or find more balance in your life, says Kate Cummins PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco. “The goal is to decrease behaviors or abstain altogether from behaviors that cause stress or addictive tendencies,” she says, whether it’s porn and masturbating or gambling and shopping.

By curbing these indulgences, we reprogram our brains. “We’re not supposed to have all that we desire all the time because it dulls the excitement of having that desired item,” she says. “When you are dopamine fasting, you are essentially creating space for a slowdown and limiting behaviors keep you feeling ‘on’ all the time.”

#2: It’s rooted in traditional therapy

While there’s currently no research looking specifically at the ‘mental boost of dopamine fasting,’ it’s based on a behavioral therapy technique called ‘stimulus control,’ which research has shown can help people with addictions by removing or restricting triggers, says Cameron Sepah, a clinical psychologist and professor at UCSF Medical School, who is widely credited with coining the term. “By limiting the time you take for stimulating activities, you’re engaging in time-based stimulus control, which provides structure and reduces impulsive behavior.”

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

#3: You don’t have to cut everything out of your life

As dopamine fasting has gotten more attention, it’s also been misunderstood and sensationalized, Sepah says, adding that this is why he has renamed his technique ‘Dopamine Fasting 2.0.’

For starters, Sepah says you don’t need to abstain from a strict list of behaviors for a long period of time for it to restore your mental health and balance. “You only need to abstain from behaviors that are personally problematic for you,” he says. “That’s defined as behaviors causing distress (you’re bothered by how much you do it), impairment (it interferes with your optimal social or school/work performance) and addictiveness (you want to cut down, but cannot consistently do so).”

#4: You can take mini dopamine fasts

The goal is to schedule specific breaks that allow you to rebalance. “I suggest people find one to four hours at the end of the day to do a dopamine fast depending on work or family demands,” he says. “Or, you can pick one weekend day and spend it outside, one weekend per quarter or one week per year.”

#5: Fasts will keep trending

Dopamine fasting videos are huge on YouTube, including this one that currently has 1.7 million views. Ironic since most people are trying to fast from the internet and social media. Still, even just a few years ago, people who tracked their ‘screen time’ were rare, and now Apple and Instagram have build it into their software, says Sepah, who believes that dopamine fasts will become as mainstream as intermittent fasting. “Users of apps like Zero Fasting have done 35 million intermittent food fasts to date, so we’ll see this interest spread to dopamine fasting as well.”






Last Updated: Aug 13, 2020