For most travellers in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the longest journeys is almost always the one to Australia. You know, the surprisingly large country way, way down there, just about 8 hours from anything, with the exception of New Zealand. 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.
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.
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.
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.