The mysterious Ayahuasca diet
The mysterious Ayahuasca diet
A lot has been said about the Ayahuasca diet on the internet and yet it’s a mystery to many people starting with the medicine. Every article seems to have its own take on the subject, listing a varying set of restrictions – some even that strict that you may wonder what you can eat after all. There seems to be common ground on avoiding beef, pork, dairy, sugar, salt, hot spices, greasy food, coffee, alcohol and sex, and some centers get along with it quite well. Other centers request you to avoid tomatos, fruit, legumes, bread, all kinds of meat, even reading books or using the internet… and the list could go on and on. So, who is right?
All this conflicting information really stressed me out during my preparation. I wanted to do it right to minimise the risk of a bad or weak experience. The result was, that I was afraid to make a mistake everytime I prepared a meal, which is certainly not the best state of mind to prepare for Ayahuasca. When I arrived at my retreat center, I found out that they practiced a much lighter version of the diet. The food was tasty, seasoned (although with different herbs and spices than we have at hand in Europe), and to my surprise, it was very versatile. We ate bread, legumes, fruit, tomatoes, fish and chicken, and enjoyed every meal!
During my retreat I learned that the dietary restrictions are not a traditional thing. While habitual restrictions like having no sex during an Ayahuasca process are traditionally practiced in the Amazon, the nutritional restrictions, however, were intented by the Westerns who came to the Amazon during the 80s and 90s to adapt Ayahuasca to the cultural needs of western tourists. This isn’t a bad thing in the first place. If you look at the traditional food in the Amazon, there is no pork and beef, as lifestock farming isn’t really common in the jungle. For the same reason, dairy does not belong to the Amazonian cuisine. Neither do salt or sugar. Salt is a relatively expensive product that needs to be imported, so it never made its way into the jungle. And why would you produce refined sugar in a place, where you can pick naturally sweetened fruits right from the trees?
In other words, the Ayahuasca diet is a (useful) invention to prepare us Non-Amazonians for the Ayahuasca process by cutting out all the unnatural foods that we have cultivated in our industrialised lifestyles.
However, this still doesn’t explain the different versions of the diet. One explanation I got from the owner of my retreat center was pretty plausible to me: Many of the Western Ayahuasceros who moved to the Amazon since the 80s came with a spirutual background in other traditions, where certain foods where defined as unhelathy or considered as providers of bad energy. (The latest trend to avoid gluten illustrates this quite well.) The result was a dieting competition between the centers for the “best dieter”, in this case meaning as clean and healthy as possible. If this race is in the best interest of the people seeking help with Ayahuasca, is an interesting question.
At least all the different versions of the diet prove one thing: There is not one truth out there. Different styles of the Ayahuasca diet work for people. There are people who do eat chicken and tomatoes and still have a fabulous experience. It is said that the cleaner the diet, the softer will be the purge. If that holds true, the worst that can happen on a more lose diet is that you purge a bit more than on a rather strict diet. Being willing to pay this price can be a handy compromise when deciding what kind of nutrition is feasible for oneself.
Another take on the subject I found is the idea that the whole dieting thing is mainly a spiritual preparation. Someone somewhere on the internet (I don’t remember where) said something along those lines: Everytime you eat, you think of Ayahuasca. That’s a pretty smart way to direct your focus towards the experience that lies ahead of you. And I do agree with that in a way. The mental preparation is a relly important part of the process and food restrictions indeed foster it. Fasting in its many forms is part of pretty much every spiritual tradition. The sacrifice it requires shifts the focus from nutritional pleasures (that often serve as an emotional uplift) towards yourself and the emotions you are left with when you break out of comfortable routines. Besides the physical cleansing taking place, this comes with a mental cleansing process that is a very good preparation for the time with the medicine.
However, getting stressed out because of the diet is certainly working against this whole idea and is not the healthiest way to approach this. While the whole dieting thing made me nervous before my first time, I’d take it a lot easier from now on.