I might not subsist on kale smoothies and quinoa bowls, but I make an effort to eat healthily when I can. My girlfriend and I eat plenty of homemade meals, and we make a point to include loads of vegetables. I also aim to avoid fast food (mostly), even during odd hours when almost nothing else is open.
There is one aspect of my diet that could use improvement, though. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I like to smoke weed after a long day at work, and while I see nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional joint, I do see something wrong with the fact that I get hit hard by the munchies and often end up cramming massive amounts of snacks down my throat late into the night.
So while I want to keep smoking weed, I want to quit gobbling all the calories that result from my stonerism. Which is how I stumbled upon the Pavlok 2, a wearable device that promises to help break bad habits like excessive snacking by means of aversion therapy. In other words, the bracelet is supposed to shock you whenever you indulge in your bad habit, theoretically creating a pavlovian association between the bad habit — in my case, eating crap while high — and getting electrocuted. Sold!
As per the instructions, these shocks, unfortunately, have to be self-administered. Since the device has no way of knowing whether I’m snacking, it works like this: Every night for five nights, I will need to eat snacks while high for five minutes, shocking myself every five seconds throughout the duration of those five minutes. Supposedly, this is enough time for the brain to make the connection and at least think twice before snacking in future.
To see how that plays out in reality, I’m keeping a diary of my Pavlok experiences over five nights (so yes, I will be high while writing a good deal of this article, just for a change). Will I shock myself out of the munchies? Will I give myself a heart attack? Will I get so high I forget to put it on?
Let’s find out!
After downloading the app and pairing the Pavlok to my phone, I went ahead and gave myself a few tester zaps — first at 10 percent power, which I could hardly even feel, then again at 30 percent, which was actually a surprisingly strong sting (at least stronger than I’d expected). I also shocked myself at 100 percent, because, you know, I just had to — and yeah, that shit hurts for a quick second. Eventually, considering how many times I was about to be shocked, I settled on 20 percent, which felt more like an annoying prick than anything.
According to the Pavlok website, the zap strength ranges from 50 volts at 10 percent to 450 volts at 100 percent. Since I had no idea what that compares to and whether I should expect to die from these constant jolts, I messaged my aunt, Chris Grant, who’s certified in residential wiring and has an associate degree in electrical trades. “Well, the amount of voltage that runs in U.S. houses is 120, so the Pavlok can release more than three times that amount,” she explains. “However, we were taught that it’s not the voltage that you worry about, but the amperage (or current) — less than one amp of current can kill a person.”
Turns out, though, unless you’re pregnant or have serious heart problems, the Pavlok is generally harmless, as it only releases four milliamps, or four one-thousandths of an amp.
I also asked my aunt whether there’s anything you can do to lessen the experience of being shocked, since I’m a wimp and not at all looking forward to this. “Not really,” she admits. “It was really emphasized that we not get shocked in the first place. But I’ve had a couple minor shocks. Installing a light fixture at home, I managed to touch two wires together through my hand. It’s unpleasant, but doesn’t linger once you let go. However, higher voltages can cause muscles to spasm so you can’t let go. That’s super dangerous.”
Sounds like, aside from some minor pain, I should be just fine then?
One problem I’m running into, though, is that the bracelet isn’t always zapping. It might be a fit issue, or possibly user error, but that’s kinda annoying. Either way, let’s get to the food. I had two pieces of pizza and a good amount of salad for dinner, but I left an extra piece for my munchies tonight. I also just split a joint with my girlfriend, so I’m feeling pretty hungry again right now, which means it’s go time. I’m using the aversion session, and I’ll be getting zapped every five seconds, like they recommend. I’m watching some Trailer Park Boys and I’m about to dig into this slice, so here we go…
Okay, that was one of the least enjoyable pizza-eating experiences I’ve ever had, so I guess this thing is working, if that was the point. Don’t get me wrong: The pizza was still good, but the constant shocks made it hard to focus on actually eating. I was pretty much just waiting to take the bracelet off by the halfway mark (I admit, I pushed it down on my wrist a little bit, so the shock wouldn’t keep hitting the same spot).
I also proceeded to eat a small Trader Joe’s peanut butter cup almost immediately after I finished the slice and took the bracelet off, so there’s that.
After eating a bowl of homemade vegetarian curry for dinner, my lovely girlfriend gave me some of her breakfast leftovers for a post-dinner snack — some spinach, tomato and mushroom scramble with a chunk of hash browns. I also squirted some ketchup over the whole thing. We shared another joint, and yeah, I’m not looking forward to putting this bracelet on again.
The scramble is pretty good, but again, the shock every five Goddamn seconds definitely lessens the experience of eating it — I’m focusing on the shock much more than the actual food, and frankly, even paying attention to Trailer Park Boys is hard (we’ve been on a binge lately). Maybe that’s just because I’m stoned and having trouble multitasking, though.
For dinner tonight, I grabbed a burrito from the nearby taco truck, and I snagged an extra taco, expecting to get the munchies. I also took a couple puffs of a joint after a day of getting stuff done. I’m feeling pretty good, and I’d for sure rather just relax on the couch than put this bracelet on again, but what the hell, here we go.
You know what it is? It’s like juuust annoying enough to be actually annoying. The taco is still going down, though.
I’ve finished the taco long before the five minutes are up — like, I just swallowed that thing — so now I’m just sitting here getting shocked for no reason. WTF.
Seeing as I had some time to kill, I reached out to psychologist and psychotherapist Jeanette Raymond to ask about how habits work and whether I can expect the Pavlok to help break mine. “Generally, what we think of as habits are anxiety-releasing behaviors that take us away from unbearable feelings that are overwhelming and can make us feel helpless and unsafe,” Raymond explains. “So these ‘habits’ are formed to displace that overbearing anxiety onto something else, like nail biting, leg tapping, hair pulling, teeth grinding and bed wetting.”
As for what Raymond thinks about the Pavlok and pavlovian conditioning in general, “Trying to use aversive conditioning is unlikely to work in the long-term, as the nature and source of the anxiety underlying the ‘habit’ isn’t addressed,” she says. “It’s likely that the person will develop some other habit — society may be more accepting of some habits than others.”
I had a super late dinner today, because I had band practice right after work. I had two leftover pieces of pizza again (don’t judge me, it’s been a busy week). Once again, I had some of a joint, and considering it was a small dinner, I’m having one of my classic munchies snacks tonight: Chips and salsa. Let’s snack and get zapped for a few minutes, I guess.
I’m running into that issue again, where the zaps aren’t working for some reason. But after restarting the app a few times, I’m feeling them again. They’re actually not too bad tonight, and the salsa is dank.
On second thought, now that I’m about halfway through the five minutes, the shocks are getting pretty annoying. During the first half of tonight’s shock journey, the chips definitely trumped the zaps, but now the shocks are annoying enough to really hinder my chip-eating experience.
The five minutes are up, and while that was super irritating, I’m still gonna eat more chips.
I didn’t get home until almost 10 o’clock. Since we need groceries, I just grabbed some quick Chinese takeout on the way home. It was a large serving, so I’m dipping back in because of my post-dinner munchies. All I had left in terms of weed was a little nub of a joint, but I finished it off, so I’m there, you know.
I’m suuuuuper tired. I left the house around seven this morning, and it’s been a long day. I don’t really want to get shocked, but hey, it’s a living.
Yep, still annoying. The shocks do make eating in general a less enjoyable experience, so again, if that’s the goal here, the bracelet is doing a good job. I think I’ll be happy to not have to wear it ever again after tonight.
I’m going to finish off this Chinese food, though, for good measure.
Look, after some thinking (and smoking, and eating) I might say that the experience of using the Pavlok will stick with me. At the very least, whenever I reach for a weed-motivated snack, I’ll think back to when I tried to shock my cravings away, which at times, might be enough to remind me that I wanted to stop doing this, and possibly even make me try to actually stop. It’s more guilt than anything else — you went through all of that for nothing???
All told, though, while being shocked did suck, even by Day Five I was just looking forward to taking the bracelet off so I could continue eating in peace. Really, the Pavlok made me hate getting shocked a whole lot more than it made me hate eating snacks. Of course, I highly doubt they recommend using this product while smoking weed, so that might have inhibited my process.
I can’t say Raymond didn’t warn me, however. “The Pavlok is appealing to the quick-fix brigade and gives an element of control over the so-called habit,” she explains. “But frightening oneself out of a habit isn’t going to help figure out why that particular habit developed, when it did and why it still persists. It has a function, and if not discovered, the habit will return or another will form in its place.”
Looks like I’ll just have to find another way to quit my munchies, then. But don’t you dare suggest giving up weed — 420 blaze it up for life, baby.