I Tried Fasting to Prevent Jet Lag and Sleep Better While Traveling—Here’s What I Learned
Wellness influencers have all sorts of travel hacks for warding off jet lag: Elle Macpherson swears by supplements, Dave Asprey's all about earthing, and Nutrition Stripped founder McKel Hill, RDN, opts not to eat in flight. Yep, you read that right. The Nashville-based dietitian with a healthy food obsession chooses to leave her travel snacks at home. Here, the Well+Good Council member explains why and how fasting helps her body stay in sync on the road.
I've done some form of intermittent fasting for almost 10 years, but I hadn't tried it during the day until I took a trip to Thailand in 2015. Not only was it a long haul (30-plus hours with connecting flights, ride shares, etc.), but I was slipping into a completely different time zone—12 hours ahead—and needed to adjust to my new schedule for the next two weeks.
Plus, I believed it could help with what I call "travel digestion"—AKA when your gut gets out of its normal routine; this can look like constipation, bloating, or diarrhea. (We need more research to confirm these findings, but some studies have shown that fasting has metabolic benefits, can decrease inflammation (especially in the digestive tract), and extend life and longevity, in female mice, at least.)
My flight was in the early morning, so rather than break my fast (i.e. eat breakfast) when I woke up, I had some MCT-boosted coffee before I boarded the plane. But once the cabin door closed, all I consumed was water. But I had some freeze-dried green juice powders I could add to it and nut butter, a healthy fat, on hand in case I got very hungry, to keep my energy humming along without dramatically spiking blood sugars.
Since I'm used to fasting for seven to nine hours a day when I'm sleeping (even more if I eat an early dinner and late breakfast), it felt manageable.
Instead of eating, I stayed up most of the flight working or reading with the occasional nap when my body needed it. When I landed in Thailand, I was able to easily get on the new "meal" time and my digestion felt normal. I realize this is an extreme example with the travel time, but since I'm used to fasting for seven to nine hours a day when I'm sleeping (even more if I eat an early dinner and late breakfast), it felt manageable. And I personally find it's most beneficial, in terms of curing my jet lag, when I also spend the days before a flight getting in sync with my new sleep schedule.
But every body's different. Which is why fasting might not be for everyone—especially those with impaired glycemic control, as it's been shown to causes poorer glucose response—as well as anyone who is pregnant, underweight, younger than 18, or has a history of disordered eating. And if you've never done it before, do it under the guidance of a nutritionist or physician you trust.
Opting to leave my healthy snacks at home can be hard, but in some ways, it reduces my travel anxiety by simplifying the process and decreases my decision fatigue around figuring out what foods I needed to bring or find at the airport—which gives me more time to relax and think about the awesome adventure I have ahead of me.
McKel Hill, RDN, is a registered dietician nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition Stripped, which treats healthy food as more than just fuel—and gives expert advice on using its nutrients and flavors to make you feel amazing.
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