Science is finding evidence that the ancient practice of fasting offers a host of mental health benefits.
I’m starving. Quite literally. I’ve been on a pretty intense diet recently and as of today have lost 55 pounds in a little over four months. There are many health benefits to keeping that weight off but I really believe it’s helping me be a better angler, if for no other reason than I can hike to better water. In all seriousness though, I’ve seen a difference and it got me doing a little research. It seems I’m not alone in the idea that fasting changes your mental performance.
My initial theory was this. If I am hungry when fishing, my natural predatory senses could be enhanced. My body needs food and my mind could be sharpening my senses to help me provide it, helping me spot fish and focus on catching them. After doing some reading, I think there’s merit in that idea but there may be more going on.
Studies have shown that fasting can finding improvements in mood, mental clarity, vigilance, a sense of improved well-being, and sometimes euphoria. An interesting article from “Mind The Science Gap” gets into some of the physical details.
“The mood-boosting effects of fasting may be an evolutionary adaptive mechanism for periods of famine. In other words, when food is scarce our bodies release chemicals to help protect our brains from the negative effects. These chemicals can put us in a good mood–but, as you know if you have skipped a meal or two, it takes a few days. During the first week of fasting, the body begins to adapt to starvation by releasing massive amounts of catecholamines including epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and dopamine as well as gluco-corticoids, steroid hormones involved in regulating the immune response and glucose metabolism. All of these chemicals are also released during the infamous ‘fight or flight’ response. After a while, our body responds to this stress through a boost of feel-good and protective chemicals.” -http://www.mindthesciencegap.org
There is also research which suggests that these chemical changes in the brain help in the long term to ward off neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, so the number of fish you catch may not be your greatest concern. Groups like Wefast are popping up around the globe to support and promote the health benefits of therapeutic fasting.
I’m not suggesting that you take on a Gandhi like hunger strike for fly fishing, but maybe try skipping lunch on a couple of fishing days. See if you feel a difference. There are several types of fasting which are not extreme and you may find some benefit from it, even if it’s just looking better in your waders. Countless cultures and religions have used fasting as a way to seek higher states of mind. Why not fly fishing?
Let us know what you think.