Dopamine Fasting Reconsidered

It took five minutes of rain and four hours of living without the internet to change my mind about dopamine fasting. Within two hours of no internet connectivity, I found myself strolling into the nearest store and walking out with a bag full of junk food. Over the next one hour, I ate my feelings – comprising of one bag of crisps and two boxes of biscuits and realized that my life had very quickly slipped off the rails and crashed straight into a wall. When another two hours later the internet service came back on, I had pretty much given up on the day, the week and maybe even the rest of the month. I had not only contemplated my extreme dependency on the service but also stared straight at irony. I had spent all of the previous day reading about dopamine fasting, scoffing about the concept and moving on to the next thing. Now surrounded by empty junk food packaging, I was contemplating indulging in it myself.  

What is dopamine fasting?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that amongst other things help process rewards and motivate behavior. Neurons that release dopamine are activated when we expect to receive a reward. If the reward is greater than expected, the brain recognizes and saves that information. Next time we want to feel good, the brain redirects us to the activities that gave us pleasure. If it gives the same pleasure as it did before, dopamine signaling is not altered. Theory (and common sense) suggests that over time the activities that first gave us the same spike in pleasure over time cease to be as effective.

Thus dopamine fasting. We all know what fasting means however, it is impossible to get rid of dopamine – that might just be fatal. The intention is to strip our environment of anything that releases dopamine including food, music and sometimes even eye contact. There are different extents to which someone can decide to take the fasting. The first article I ever read on dopamine fasting was in November of last year where CEOs of companies were taking breaks to disconnect from social media, human contact and spent time reading.

The idea is that once you have indulged in dopamine fasting or a dopamine detox, it resets the levels allowing you to be motivated for the right reasons and rediscovering life’s little pleasures.

What I felt before?

You probably rolled your eyes at the definition. Old dog, new leash. But you have to admit you were a little curious. This curiosity is what led me to binge reading on dopamine fasting. I am a fan of new fancy terms and this one drew me like a moth to a flame. However, to me it sounded more like an exotic retreat; a vacation idea that doubled as a mental benefit vs something that I would try at home, let alone seriously. I wanted to try it because it was a fad not because I thought it had any merit. I thought of it as a fun 24 hour challenge – one that I would likely lose within the first hour.

My feelings now

Discovering that you have an addiction is a rude awakening. Addiction to social media, surfing online, or just screen time aren’t really considered addictions in the modern day. Yet as compared to smoking and drugs, they likely kill productivity, motivation and focus far more quickly.  They may have the same or marginally smaller impact on physical health but how does that make it more acceptable?

I am still a 100% convinced that I will fail within the first four hours however, I am now willing to try this from the confines of my house. Human interaction is already on an on time low and I could do with fewer hours on screen interaction. I am also well aware that it will take me 24 days of preparation just to survive a 24 hour fast but hey – wasn’t the lockdown created to let us humans experiment? With countries around the world opening, our last days of real lockdown might be around the corner. Might as well squeeze in (or squeeze out) as much as we can in the last few weeks.

What say? You with me?

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