a sunset seen through a window

For most travellers in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the longest journeys is almost always the one down to beautiful Australia. But ugh, the jet lag. Sigh.

You know, Australia, the surprisingly large country way, way down there, just about 8 hours from anything except New Zealand and Fiji. It’s always worth it, but it’s seriously far and with time zone changes which basically flip your day upside down, it’s always quite challenging.

Earlier this year I wrote about the jet lag diet, used at times by the CIA and other crazy entities, which aims to combat jet lag by resetting your stomach, which helps to tell your brain what time it is when you reach your destination. It sounds odd, but the science makes sense. Your eating habits are a key factor in when your body thinks it should be doing what, and if you basically hit the reset and power down button during your travels and resume when you land, it figures things out from there.

I tried it, and it kind of really worked.

I think…

a plane on the runwayIn Transit

Despite most of my travels taking place between the US and Europe, I make the trip from the USA or Europe to Asia and Pacific at least a handful of times a year. Over the years, I’ve gotten to experience almost every shade of horrible jet lag and even a few special hangovers from toasting the journey just a bit too much.

Of all the trips I’ve taken throughout the years, none left me feeling more refreshed than the one I just took, which entailed 14 hours of genuine fasting before arrival in Australia. That meant for 14 long hours there was…

  • Absolutely no food. Not even peanuts.
  • Absolutely no alcohol, even good stuff.
  • Absolutely no beverages other than water.

I flew from London to Melbourne via Hong Kong, which meant I had roughly 12 hours on the first flight, a 6 hour layover in Hong Kong and then an 8.5 hour flight down to Melbourne.

I started the journey with a large meal before our 10PM departure from London, and skipped literally everything on the plane so that the fasting approach would apply to my layover in Hong Kong as well, helping to ease the 8 hour difference faced on landing.

What’s funny about all this, is that when you’re in business class, which I was lucky enough to be in, there’s a dinner service, then a snack service, and then a breakfast service. Enjoying each and every one of them is usually one of the most amusing way to pass time, yet this time they were torture.

Now, for a full admission: I didn’t quite make it.

I did manage to entirely avoid all food for the 12 hour flight, but I couldn’t resist a cup of Hong Kong style “milk tea” when I woke up. When I landed in Hong Kong, I felt more refreshed than usual, and without the grumbling stomach of airplane food, I felt far less fatigue which helped me carry on without napping before the next flight.

With a further 8.5 hours in the air and 6 to kill in transit, that left me about half an hour with which to eat some food before the 14 hour fasting window was to reset again. I managed to scarf down some noodles and one lonely glass of wine before spending the next 14 hours on the water diet.

Once again, I *nearly* succeeded. I made it through the 4 additional hours in the airport without food and then managed to avoid the temptation of champagne on the plane too. The one thing I couldn’t resist: a little piece of chocolate before bed. Damn those delicious little pralines. To be fair, it was early on in the flight and it was all I had until another cheater milk tea just before landing.

I wasn’t perfect, but come on – this is all kind of crazy. This was as close to perfection as I could have ever hoped for.

On Arrival

I arrived after the overnight flight basically starving. I pretty much missed the standard breakfast window, so I waited until lunch to eat a substantial meal. It had now been more than 14 hours and I had never been more happy to see the always hip, always fresh Aussie food and coffee scene.

I chowed down and enjoyed the sweet, sweet nectar of caffeine and within minutes, I felt like a new man. For a combined 20 hours of flying, I felt completely fresh. So much so, after a little digestion, I went for a run around town.

I made it through the day without even a hint of “I really need a nap”. At dinner time, the diet suggests a healthy diet of starchy carbs like pasta or potatoes on your first night. This is because these heavier style of foods are associated with evening meals and have a sedative effect on the body. The carbs basically tell your body it’s bedtime.

Guess what? It worked.a sunset seen through a window

It Worked, I Think

Despite a summer time zone change of 10 hours between London and Melbourne, I made it through the day, made it through the night, fell asleep at an entirely normal time of circa 10PM and woke up without too much self loathing or pity around 7AM. This theme rang true for the duration of the trip.

The success of this all left as many questions as there were answers, at least for me.

  • Was the fasting the big winner, or was it the lack of drinking?
  • Did I just pick lucky flight times, which were conducive to good energy?
  • Would this have worked had I been in a cabin without a bed to pass time?

But then I made the return trip, and a few of those questions were answered.

Back in London now, things aren’t quite as sweet. I broke every fasting rule, and also enjoyed some drinks on the plane. Despite my best efforts to drink four flat whites per day, I’m lagging. In my heart of hearts, I actually think the timing of flights coming back was more optimal than those going out. I also was in the same exact identical seat on both flights, in both directions, even down to the same aircraft type. I didn’t over drink, I didn’t overeat, but I did both and that’s the only change.

The only variable? I broke the fasting rule, I broke the no alcohol rule. Now, I’m paying for it. I arrived feeling tired, I struggled to sleep at a natural time and I’ve woken up early enough to tune into prime time USA night time television, despite being in London.

Let’s get one thing straight: I wanted this to fail.

I wanted to suffer in Melbourne just enough that I could write off this jet lag diet shenanigans. Deep down, I wanted to justify my affinity for a nice drink or two on the plane and the amusement of tasting dependably mediocre plane food to pass the time. In the end, I’m now pretty deeply convinced that despite my semi imperfect adherence, there really is something to it.

I’d say try it, but you may never enjoy eating or drinking on a plane again if it works for you too. I think it’s ruined me, at least if I want to kick jet lag on a significant trip. Cheers to that.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I’ve heard of this working for some people but it’s not for me. If I don’t eat when I’m hungry, my crankiness far outweighs any jet lag. I’m headed to Australia in 2 weeks in Qantas First and you better believe I’ll be eating and drinking until I pass out!! lol. I’ve never had an issue with Jet lag and there will be plenty of time for sleep on the 16 hour flight. I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired and I’ve been fine on numerous trips to Europe and Asia.

  2. Great post, Gilbert.

    Before you brought it up, I had already thought to ask if sleep would be a factor. You didn’t really discuss it but did you make a point of following Australia time by sleeping at the appropriate times during the long travels? I bet that is a factor.

    Also, dd you get the same amount of sleep during the journey, that you would have anyway?

    I hesitate to try this out during a long haul award itinerary in Business or First, as I do enjoy the food and the beverages!

    I wonder how well this strategy would have worked in an Economy seat, with less than ideal sleep conditions.

    Perhaps I’d give this a go next time I’m paying revenue for a long haul ticket. The food and drinks wouldn’t be good anyway!

  3. Nice post. I have been critical in the past, but this blog is really maturing into something different.

    And I think I’m going to try this soon.

  4. Perhaps you’ve actually unearthed a reason to use BeyondAbysmal given the unreliability of their catering on both long and short haul. Personally, I still think they should deliver the product as sold though.

  5. I did this on the way to Kenya and it worked for me too, I didn’t eat for the 12 hours prior to when I’d be “waking up” in Kenya and then I followed through with a meal, no alcohol, and then dinner before bed when I arrived. I also utterly failed to follow it on the way home and paid for it for several days with afternoon fatigue and sleeping 13+ hour nights. Which is my version of jet lag. Alas, business class food may be a thing of the past for me.

  6. I tried this on a recent Norwegian flight DEN-LGW: lunchtime in Denver was dinnertime in London, and I didn’t eat anything at all until arriving in London at breakfast time. There are definitely less temptations when on a ULCC where you have to buy all food & drinks. But, I’m not sure it made a difference.

  7. Glad it worked for you. As I’ve stated before, it always works for me. I only need business class for the bed now. All the clinking of glassware and silverware does get to me though! Even with earplugs. Miss that bubbly.

  8. Part of the enjoyment of the trip is indulging in the food and drink in the air. I agree that it’s better for you not to drink and all that and I’m sure that helped you feel better, but that just helps to make my flight more relaxing and tolerating. I think I’ll take the jet lag for a day rather than the torture in the air!!

    PS I’m on the LAX-MEL flight next month in Y on VA. I will not be fasting 🙂

  9. FYI- The torture people feel is because their gut biome is overrun with bacteria that thrive on sugar and carbs. This is because they eat mostly… sugar and carbs. Those are living organisms and they have evolved to secrete things to make you cranky, panicky etc so you break down and eat what they want rather than what’s good for you. If you ever get the desire to stop eating sugar and carbs for 72 hours, eating anything else you want, then do a fast like that it is not difficult in the least. Also when you land if it’s in the first half of the day do a workout- that resets things best.

  10. All right guys seeking advice.

    Agreed that this definitely works, wondering how early one can start?

    Arriving in NYC from Hong Kong at 10pm. Rather than still be fasting until 7am the following day, would it not work equally to start earlier & have a fast and break it coinciding with 7am NYC time while I am still here in SGN or HKG.

    A little convoluted I know but after you slammed the new catering at the pier I am less than enthused. Sounds like fasting all day and skipping the mediocre food there and eating on the plane might be the way to go…

  11. I’m a regular intermittent faster so going 17-20 hours is no longer a big deal. As a frequent business traveller I now have a rule of no eating during transit. This means no airport lounge food, no plane food etc. It’s made all the difference in my health, and digestion. I love it. I still fly business and enjoy the opportunity to sleep flat and decline all the alcohol and food. I take good books to pass the time or just sleep!

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