The 'Ayahuasca Diet' usually refers to the restricted diet eaten before, during and after Ayahuasca ceremonies or retreats. It usually involves reducing or eliminating foods which have a heavy toxic load on the body, such as very processed foods and alcohol, and sometimes reducing or eliminating red meat, all meat, spices and/or salt. The purpose of the Ayahuasca diet is to create an optimum environment within the body, mind and spirit for working with the plant spirit and for receiving the best healing results. There is currently a lot of information about the 'Ayahuasca diet' available online, some of which is very conflicting. Long lists are given of foods to avoid, contrasted with the opinion that it really doesn't matter what you eat at all. Here we'll have a look at the whys of the Ayahuasca diet, at when and why restricting some foods can be important, and also at why many restrictions are often not really necessary.
The first time I drank Ayahuasca, all the food was prepared for me before, during and after the ceremonies so I didn't really think that much about what I was eating: it was all very healthy, fresh, natural food and not really any different to what I would have been eating anyway Then, a while later, I got invited to a one-off ceremony where none of the meals would be provided. Knowing that there were some foods that needed to be avoided before drinking Ayahuasca, I did some online research and ended up very confused! It seemed that every page I looked at gave a different list of foods to be avoided and, taking all of that into account, I couldn't really eat anything. I spent a couple of days eating plain rice and lentils, hoping that the lentils would actually be okay because one page did say to avoid them... and then on the way to the ceremony, a friend offered me cheese and chocolate, which, when I questioned if that was okay to eat, was met with the response “Its still going to work.” And that's true, in my experience and observation, the diet eaten before the ceremony really isn't a big factor in whether the medicine 'works' or not, and heavily restricting the diet to basically nothing can do more harm than good. I have met several people who, unsure of what they could or couldn't eat, survived for weeks on just boiled rice and chicken, creating unnecessary stress and misery for themselves, and weakining their bodies more than was needed.
Why Restrict the Diet? Ayahuasca Diet vs. Plant Dieta
Where it can be useful to consume a cleaner diet in the lead-up to drinking Ayahuasca, a lot of the confusion appears to come from the necessary restrictions taken during an Amazonian plant dieta being confused with what's recommended for drinking Ayahuasca by itself, without being in a dieta with a plant.
During an Amazonian plant dieta, a spiritual relationship is formed with the spirit of a plant for healing and for receiving teachings and wisdom from the plant. During a dieta, many restrictions are followed in the diet, and in the temporary lifestyle. A simple diet, avoiding salt, spices, sugar, oil, meat, processed foods, foods that are very sweet or strongly flavoured, alcohol, and any other plants or substances that have a strong affect on the body is followed. Dietas are also traditionally done in isolation with abstinence from sexual activity, and with no physical contact with others; sometimes with no conversation or eye contact with any other people. During a dieta, Ayahuasca may or may not be taken: it isn't essential, but it can often help with making a connection with the spirit of the plant.
Plant Dieta Preparation Diet
There is not really any need to change the diet in preparation for the dieta, but it can be useful to eat a cleaner and simpler diet so as not to shock the body, and your taste buds, too much when making the change to eating very bland and simple meals. Reducing caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, if they are usually consumed a lot, can help to prevent headaches and symptoms of withdrawl when they're no longer being taken. Eating simple and natural foods, close to their natural state, and reducing the use of salt and hot spices can help to gently prepare your body for the complete absence of heavy food, salt and flavourings. Avoiding alcohol, marijuana and other substances will help your body to enter the dieta free from too many toxins, so your process will not require so much physical cleaning.
During the dieta
The reason for dietary restrictions during a plant dieta is to help you to make the best and strongest possible connection with the plant spirit, and to create the optimum environment within your body for the medicine of that plant to enter you on all of the levels that it needs to.
Salt is an incredibly grounding and protective substance. Consuming salty food keeps our minds and bodies grounded, and protects our auras from external subtle energies. Ordinarily, it is good to consume some salt, but during the plant dieta salt is eliminated to help encourage a perception of and connection with the spirit world, so that you can experience a connection with the spirit of the plant, and so that the plant spirit can easily connect with you and work with you energetically. Because the absence of salt allows you to be much more spiritually open, it is important to do a dieta under the supervision of a curandero who can open and close the dieta properly, and oversee the process, for your spiritual protection.
Spices have an intense flavour and a strong effect on the body. During the dieta, any substances which very strongly affect the body are eliminated, so that the plant can have complete influence over the body. Adding in another strong substance can conflict the work of the plant spirit, and can be likened to having two very different conversations at once. It gets the body doing something different to that which the spirit of the plant is trying to do with it. It is also said that hot spices can potentially attract negative entities, which you especially would not want to be doing in such a spiritually open state.
Due to its heavy and grounding effect on the body, eating an oily diet can prevent us from fully opening up to and perceiving the spirit of the plant: it keeps us more engaged with and focused on the physical world, which is useful in everyday life, but not so useful during the dieta.
Sugar and very sweet foods are also substances which have a strong affect on the body and can potentially prevent us from fully perceiving a connection with the plant.
Red meat is another very heavy and grounding substance so is usually avoided due to its heavy effect on the mind and the body – it keeps us very much in the physical world, which can make it more difficult to perceive a connection with the plant spirit. It can also be more difficult for the body to digest, taking some of our energy away from the healing work it is doing with the plant. However, chicken and fish are often consumed during dietas. These are much lighter and more easily digestible, and do not influence the of the body so strongly.
Other plants, herbs and medicines are avoided during the dieta to keep the connection with the plant spirit clear and uninterrupted. The introduction of another strong plant can prevent the plant spirit of the dieta from working so effectively, and can potentially cause the dieta to become 'crossed' – resulting in its medicine not effectively sitting in and working with the physical and energetic bodies, and potentially even leading to health problems further down the line. During the dieta, it is as if you are in a relationship with the plant spirit you are dieting with. One-hundred-percent of your energy is with that plant, and you are making yourself as open and available as possible, with minimum other influences, to fully receive the medicine it is bringing to you.
Other Reasons for Restrictions
Alongside giving us the optimum environment for connecting with and working with the plant spirit, following a restrictive, and really very bland and boring, diet during the dieta also gives us the opportunity to confront any unhealthy emotional attachments, habits and behaviours we may have around food. Feeling and exploring the emotions that arise around food cravings, the need for more flavour in food, the need for food to feel 'heavy,' or whatever else it is that we feel we are missing out on, can provide an access point into discovering the roots of some of our thought patterns, feelings and behaviours around food, and it can be a hugely healing experience to work through the difficulties of the restricted diet and to understand what is at the root of them. (Although it is worth saying as well here that almost everyone at some point will crave some variety or flavour, and a part of that is just being human...) A dieta is a great opportunity to break a food addiction, or to cultivate healthier eating habits, and deeply address the root causes of them, as the option to eat whatever you are craving or needing isn't available, and there are no other distractions.
The restrictions of the dieta also work as a form of exchange with the plant spirit. You are giving up many of the things that you eat and enjoy every day (and also your usual social connections and daily activities), in order to receive the healing and wisdom from the plant. Making this sacrifice sends the message to the plant that you are serious, willing and open to receive what it has for you.
And, most practically, plant dietas have traditionally been done in isolation in the jungle, far away from human society, where there would have been no shops around to buy salt, oil, or whatever other food may have been longed for, and, until fairly recently, in a time where those foods were not available. The traditional dieta of just fish and plantain would have been eaten because that's what was available to eat, so although there are good spiritual reasons for restricting a lot of other foods, these restrictions have only really become so important because those foods have become more available.
After the dieta
Some restrictions are usually followed for a period of time after the dieta. It can be a shock for the body to return to normal eating after eliminating so many foods, and it is also good to give the body some time to integrate the healing from the plant and allow its work to continue. Different curanderos will have different post-dieta recommendations and it's important to follow their guidance – some are more or less strict, and they have usually been guided by the plants to work in their own specific way. In general, pork is avoided due to its heavy energy – it often doesn't combine well with plant medicine work and can lead to sickness if consumed too soon afterwards. Spices are avoided due to their strong effect on the body, and it is often recommended to avoid food that is too cold, as this can weaken the digestive system and be a shock to the body. (In Ayurveda, this would be described as putting out the digestive fire, which may well have received a lot of healing during your dieta as a lot of these plants love to work on the stomach, so you will want to take care of it and keep it healthy moving forwards.) It is usually recommended to avoid alcohol, drugs and other substances, as well as other plant medicines administered by different people, as this can present a risk of 'crossing' the dieta. Other restrictions are sometimes suggested, usually for a few weeks or a month following the dieta. And if the dieta is for longer, the period of restriction will probably also be longer. Because you have been following such a simple diet, you may also find yourself reacting very sensitively to stronger foods when you re-introduce them, so it is advised to gently ease your way back into your normal diet, going slowly with heavier foods like cheese and meat. You may find yourself more sensitive than before to coffee, so start with just one cup, even if you usually drink more. And post-dieta is a great time to eliminate foods from your diet that you no longer want to consume – if you want to stop drinking coffee, stop eating sugar, or stop eating processed foods, this is a great time to rebuild your new diet in the healthy way that you desire!
The Ayahuasca Diet
Unlike the plant dieta, which has the purpose of making the best and most effective spiritual connection to one plant for healing, the purpose of the Ayahuasca diet is to create and maintain the safest and most optimum environment in your body for drinking, and receiving the healing benefits of, Ayahuasca. One of the main concerns that sometimes influences the Ayahuasca diet is the presence of chemicals in food which may react with the MAO inhibitors in the Ayahuasca. It is also advised to eat a clean, healthy diet before the ceremonies, so that your body is in a cleaner condition to receive the medicine.
Ayahuasca Preparation Diet
Advice for preparing to drink Ayahuasca ranges from very long, detailed lists of foods to be avoided, to the advice that there is no need to make any changes at all. And a lot of the complicated advice around food comes from the theoretical complication of chemicals in the foods reacting negatively with the Ayahuasca. I'm really not a scientist with this, but here is my understanding of it: the Ayahuasca brew is made from two plants which work together to provide the visual and healing experience. The Chakruna leaves give the brew its visionary qualities through the chemical DMT, but if we consumed Chakruna alone, we would not experience any effect from it due to chemicals in our stomachs called MAOs. MAOs break down the DMT too quickly for our bodies to absorb it into our bloodstreams and send it to our brains – this is why DMT is usually smoked, because we will not feel the affects of it when taken through the digestive sytem. The Ayahuasca vine, whilst not possessing its own visionary properties, contains MAO Inhibitors (MAOIs), which temporarily stop the MAOs in our stomach, so the DMT doesn't get broken down so quickly and we are able to absorb it and feel its effects. So when taken together, the Ayahuasca vine allows us to extract and use DMT from the Chakruna leaves, and we are able to receive the visual experience. (There is a lot more to how the two plants work together than this, but this is the important thing in terms of the diet). MAOIs are also present in a number of pharmaceutical drugs, especially some types of antipressants, and there are a number of foods which contain chemicals that interact badly with the MAOIs in the medications, and need to be avoided by anyone taking them, Because Ayahuasca also contains MAOIs, it has been suggested that these foods may also be problematic when mixed with Ayahuasca. However, the MAOIs in Ayahuasca are different to those found in pharmaceutical drugs, and it is generally not a problem to eat those foods before an Ayahuasca ceremony. I, and many others, have eaten all kinds of things before drinking Ayahuasca and have always been fine! There is the possibility of feeling more nauseous or having some mild, unpleasant symptoms after eating those foods, but, as far as I'm aware, it has never killed anyone. If this is something you are interested in looking at in more detail, there is a great article at http://www.ayahuasca.com/science/foods-and-meds-to-avoid-with-maois/ which explains the science a lot better than I can!
Aside from that, the main reason to change the diet before drinking Ayahuasca is simply to go into the ceremonies with a cleaner body. The medicine is going to clean you and eliminate any toxins that you're carrying around, and it is common to have one, or several, ceremonies containing little more than long periods of vomiting and cleaning out, before really taking off into the medicine, especially if your body has been subjected to a large toxic load over your life. Eating a cleaner diet in the lead up to the ceremonies, and reducing drug and alcohol usage, means that there will be much less of those things for the medicine to clean out of you, so you can potentially have a much nicer experience and a greater opportunity to connect with the more insightful, visual and spiritual side of the plant.
It is also often recommended to minimise or eliminate salt for a period of time before the ceremony, and this is usually for the same reason as for the plant dieta – you may be more open to better connect with the plant and the spirit world if you are not consuming too much salt. But there is no need to eliminate salt completely- eliminating salt weakens the body, and where it can be useful to reduce salt intake a little if your diet is overly salty, and if you find it difficult to perceive subtle and spiritual energy in everyday life, going without salt for a long period of time and then entering into the humid jungle, where the hot climate leads to even more salt loss through sweating, feelings of extreme weakness and even fainting can occur, and you may find yourself unable to really concentrate and work with the medicine during ceremony due to simply feeling too tired and weak. It is much better to continue to consume salt, just being mindful not to overdo it, and to have the strength and energy to concentrate and work hard in the ceremony. Rather than following an extremely restricted diet, or completely eliminating anything, it is much better to eat as cleanly and healthily as you can during the run up to your ceremonies, reducing excessive use of salt and spices, and minimising foods that are very processed or heavy, or that you know are just not very healthy for you. But its also important to know that it's not the most important thing, and that the medicine will still work, even if you ate a pizza the day before.
Eliminating pharmaceutical and chemical drugs is a whole other topic, but is really important, as taking Ayahuasca too closely to many pharmaceutical and chemical substances can potentially be fatal. The person, or people, you are drinking with, should be able to advise you how long to stop using any medication or substance for before drinking, usually a period of weeks, for your safety.
During a retreat/Over the course of ceremonies
When you are drinking Ayahuasca, on the days of and in-between ceremonies, it's important to remember that you are going through an intense period of physical and energetic cleaning, so you want to be mindful of not re-filling your body with toxins by eating junk food or drinking alcohol between ceremonies. It is also just as important to remember that your body needs energy to work with the medicine. I am yet to meet a curandero who recommends fasting! If you are not on dieta, eating healthy, whole foods, with a little salt, but not overdoing the salt, spices or heavy flavours, will be fine. Eliminating red meat is also usually advised, especially if you are not used to drinking Ayahuasca. And, being mindful that whatever you eat may get purged up during the course of the night, it can be useful to avoid foods that are very heavy and sweet and that can potentially induce nausea even without the Ayahuasca, so maybe save the big piece of cake for afterwards.
The diet after ceremonies
After your ceremony, or ceremonies, if you haven't been on a dieta, there is really no reason to continue with a restrictive diet. But, as with the dieta, you may find that your body is more sensitive to stronger foods and, if you have been eating lightly for a while, it can be much easier on your body to re-introduce heavier foods slowly. Like with the dieta, post-ceremony is a wonderful time to break a food habit or addiction that you no longer want in your life and to cultivate new eating habits. And, like with the dieta, you will probably feel much better avoiding pork, very hot spices and alcohol/drugs for a week or two (or longer if you attended a longer retreat), to give your body some time to integrate the work of the medicine.
Some Final Thoughts
More importantly than any of this, follow the advice and information given by the person or people you will be drinking Ayahuasca with. There are many different techniques and methods, most of which have been instructed to the curandero by the plants and for a reason, and following their recommendations will enable you to best receive their medicine in the way that it has been designed to be received. Some curanderos work with more of a strict dietary process, where others are much more liberal: follow whatever they say.
Over time, you are also likely to discover the things that work best, and that don't work,= with your body before, during and after drinking Ayahuasca. I have been surprised at some of the foods which, if eaten in the afternoon before ceremony, tend to give me a lot of energy and focus, and at other things which, although very healthy, do not seem to interact well with the medicine at all.
And, in the end, the medicine has much more important healing work to do with you than fussing too much over your diet, so, where its good to go into the ceremony clean, and to observe if any foods seem to negatively affect your ceremony, there is no need to worry if your pre-ceremony diet isn't perfect, it's not going to stop the medicine from working!