Fasting Against Jetlag

Sprouted Trail Mix: The Snack That Broke My Airplane Fast

As the traveling season gets nearer, maybe you have some lovely, exciting plans to fly someplace distant across several time zones. In that case you’ll have to contend with jetlag, and if you do, I want to share a cool tip I first heard about from my friend Adam, who himself picked it up from Jason Kottke.

The advice is simple: you should fast for 12 to 16 hours before breakfast time at your destination.

The reasoning is that the digestive system plays a significant role in our body’s perception of time. This voluntary fast is meant to mimick an overnight fast (minus the midnight munchies) and helps to set the body’s internal clock to the new time zone.

I happened to read about this just before we left to spend some time in San Francisco in the fall, and since we were about to embark on a round trip of 12-hour flights with 9-hour time differences, I was quick to recruit myself as a guinea pig to test the technique.

And I’m thrilled to report it worked really well: I sailed through the time difference with just about the same effects I get from taking the metro, even though I got virtually no sleep on the plane, thanks to a very sweet, but very alert little boy sitting on my knee.

It was very easy to put in practice, too.

On both legs of the journey, from Paris to San Francisco and from San Francisco back to Paris, we had mid-morning flights, so I had a (slightly more copious than usual) dawn breakfast before leaving for the airport.

I then abstained from food for a little over 12 hours — but drank lots and lots of water — before I dug into the most satisfying break-fasts I had brought along with me: a mix of dried figs and prunes, roasted hazelnuts, and 100% cacao chocolate on one way, and some sprouted trail mix (pictured above) with a side of Taza 80% stone ground chocolate on the other. (Airline frankencheese croissant in plastic pouch? I’m good, but thank you.)

I realize that mealtime on the plane is the only thing that keeps some travelers from dying of boredom, but I actually turn down the airplane meal if I can help it, preferring to bring my own. So this fasting thing actually makes my traveling life much simpler, saving me the effort of buying, cooking, packing, and carrying more than just the above-mentioned, easy snacks.

I’d had zero experience with fasting before that, and I was not accustomed to go for that many waking hours without eating, so my biggest surprise was how little effort it required: I did feel light hunger pangs every once in a while, but they quickly dissipated if I drank water and turned my mind to other things.

And in truth, the stuffy atmosphere and canned smell of commercial airplanes aren’t particularly conducive to working up an appetite, so I found it was actually a relief to not think about food at all under those circumstances.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever tried this trick to ward off jetlag? Or have you experimented with other techniques to fight it? And do you have any experience with voluntary fasting, travel-related or otherwise?

Important note

While this kind of short-term fasting is fine for healthy adults to experiment with, you should naturally check with your doctor if you’re pregnant or have any sort of health issue.

  • Annabel Smyth

    What an interesting idea – I’d not heard of this before, but I can totally see how it would work. I have always set my watch to the time at the destination as soon as I get on the plane, and then, if it is not bedtime when we arrive, try very hard to stay awake until it is. This does not always work….

    At least this time we do not have more than an hour’s “décalage” (there really isn’t an equivalent English word) to cope with, as we are only going as far as Bavaria.

    • I also try to fight the urge to nap, and try hard to stay awake until a reasonable(ish) bedtime. This is harder on the way back from the US because flights usually land in mid-morning and you have until evening to go in a foggy daze !

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been fasting when traveling between Europe and the US for the last couple of years and it works great for me too. The best part is to decline the bland airplane meal and pack a yummy breakfast to eat at our destination. I like to take a supercharged banana bread.
    I have yet to convince my husband that it could work for him too but the kids are on board as long as I promise to let them watch a movie in the plane.

    • Maxence also declined from participating in the experiment, and Milan was 18 months old then, much too young to be subjected to it. Also, breastfeeding was a godsend to keep him happy during the flight.

      Also, I want to hear more about your supercharged banana bread!

  • Joanna Bettelheim

    My dad has been doing intermittent fasting (more like calorie restriction) where he eats very little for two days, then just eats normally the rest of the week. Not for jet lag, though, just as a general diet/health thing. I haven’t fasted on an airplane before, but I can see where it might help with that wonky sense of in between, especially for the first day of arrival.

    • I’ve read a bit about intermittent fasting and the “5:2 diet” lately, and find it very intriguing for the many purported health benefits — including weight control. Have you tried it yourself?

      • Joanna Bettelheim

        I haven’t myself, I’m a plain ole write everything down calorie counter. But Dad seems to like it.

  • I am tempted to try this. I am travelling to France within 2 weeks (from New Zealand) so it is a 30 hours trip with 10 hours of Jetlag. I am just unsure about what I will do to keep me busy in the plane if I am not eating :)

    • Well, the good news is you don’t have to fast for the entire 30 hours, just 12 to 16 of them. :) And if you don’t have young children on your knee, you can gorge on movies during the entire flight, something I longed to do myself!

      • That is the thing Clothide I am travelling with an energetic 14 months baby girl :) But I really thing about trying. I will definitely let you know!

        • Well, at least boredom won’t be an issue. :D


            I am ready to go Clotilde! My flight is tonight. I set up the clock and I am ready for fasting 12 hours before my french breakfast under the sun of France.

          • Bon voyage ! ^^

  • That seems to make sense… I should try it next time I travel far! merci x


    Valentina Duracinsky Blog

  • Diane Stuart

    Will try to fast on my trip to Poland in the Fall…about 7 hrs jet-lag. Thanks for the tip.

    • I hope you find it works well for you, too. Please come back and tell us about your experience!

  • Vee

    This post is eerily in line with my own experience. I stopped eating on planes when I was about 14 – (a particularly nasty incident involving airline spaghetti and my dad’s car on the drive home from the airport). You’re right about the smell of the plane, that and the smell of the food is pretty off-putting. Since then, I’ve been packing my own trail mix. Back then it used to be dried fruit, nuts and M&Ms. These days I usually replace the latter with some pieces of Green and Black’s. It’s all I can really bring myself to eat. I find the timing of the airplane meal frustrating. I always seem to get shaken awake just as I’m falling asleep – the worried hosts always insist on giving me my meal, not realising that it’s just going to sit untouched. Explaining that I don’t want the meal at the beginning of the flight always attracts much concern, too. And yes, I am always considerably better adjusted to the time difference than my travelling companions. Glad you’ve discovered the power of the trail mix.

  • SallyBR

    Very interesting… I don’t have a long flight planned, in fact my last was in March to Paris, and I wish I knew about this, the jet lag going in that direction is a killer for me. But my approach is to walk during the day as much as possible, and not allow me to go to sleep until it’s bed time in France…. easier said than done. ;-) I am going to try this next time for sure!

    • I do the “no sleeping until bedtime” thing, and try to walk in the daytime too, but usually only when I arrive at my destination. The excitement keeps me going then, but it’s harder to sustain it upon coming home. :S

  • sonya

    I tried this for the first time last November traveling to Germany from NYC and it was truly helpful! I brought along hard-boiled eggs to break the fast.

    • Eggs would indeed be a good, filling snack. They need to be pretty fresh, I imagine, so as not to inconvenience fellow passengers with the smell. :)

      • sonya

        Oh, indeed! I had a layover so I knew I would be in an airport at breakfast time. I can’t imagine ever taking hard-boiled eggs to eat on a plane, I’d be mortified of the smell ;) I always try to take non-offensive foods for travel — things that don’t have a lot of aroma, or make a lot of noise or mess.

        • I am very sensitive to smells, so I can only encourage your brand of thoughtfulness! Once, on a train, I had to walk up to a lady who was applying nail polish and stinking up the whole car — amazingly, she had a hard time understanding what the problem was.

          • sonya

            Same here, I am super sensitive to smells! Nail polish on a train would drive me bonkers, as does spray paint and most artificially scented products such as laundry detergent and shampoos . It was brave of you to approach the nail polish lady — I suspect that many people simply are not sensitive to smells.

          • I was so shocked she would do that in the first place that I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was traveling with my sister, who has also inherited our mother’s sensitive nose, so I felt doubly vindicated. :)

  • rachelsloan79

    I wish I’d read this the day you posted it, as the day after that I flew home from New York and for some reason my jetlag was worse than usual. :( I don’t have any long-haul flights planned for my summer holidays (Brittany and Ireland) but I’m flying to California for Thanksgiving and will definitely be giving your tip a try – now THAT is a brutal flight!

    Your trail mix looks delicious, by the way – are those dried mulberries?

    • Sorry you had it bad last time! The trail mix was purchased at Whole Foods, and indeed it included dried mulberries, along cranberries and raisins.

      Mulberries are not very common here, so they’re a nice novelty. I do have a bag of chocolate-covered ones I recently found at an organic store here, and I look forward to giving them a try!

  • the kale project

    This is really great advice and something I also wish I’d read before flying back last week! The return from the states always is hard for me and my internal clock is a mess for at least a week afterwards. I will definitely try this next time!

  • Kate Solo

    I will be flying from Syd-Hawaii in about a month- going over the jetlag/time difference is not a problem but the 11hr plane ride home is a pain because it is an all day flight and by the time i get home i’m exhausted- im so glad i came across this post because i definitely will be giving it a try! x

  • A quick follow up on this post Clotilde. I told you I will try the fatsting method against Jet Lag and I did. After 24h in France I am feeling good I thing it mainly helps the digestion. I actually wrote an article on my blog about the Anti Jet Lag Diet I followed and highly recommended my reader to read your post here. Thanks again! next step buying your last book on Tuesday :) A bientot. Carine.

  • Miss. Fae

    Ok. So I have a 21 hour journey from NYC->NZ. The LAX-NZ portion is about 11 hours and the plane lands around breakfast time (730). So as long as I don’t eat until I land, and don’t eat 3 hours prior to boarding that flight, I should be fine?

    • That sounds just right. Do report back afterward, and have a wonderful time in New Zealand!

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