As the name suggest, the “Ayahuasca Dieta” process’ most basic feature involves a limited food allowance, over the span of weeks or months – While consuming Ayahuasca and other medicines. In the standard dieta, one might expect to eat white rice, oatmeal, boiled green plantain or potato… Each item is prepared only in boiled water, and has no additional flavouring or seasoning. These limited items may feel insufficient for survival, but actually they contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals, even trace amounts of salt (though you wouldn’t know it from the taste). The fact is, it’s physically possible to survive on nothing but potatoes and water, for months. It’s just boring, that’s all!
Certain dietas allow fruit, tiny fish, and countless other variations; but what’s described above could be called the basic minimal diet.
So as you might imagine, it’s not uncommon to dream of fabulous feasts of colourful food in a multi-week dieta. You won’t be starving, but you will miss flavour. You will become bored of eating bland, white, water-flavored things! You will learn to appreciate, with excitement, the savoury earthiness of a simple potato! Your body will go through a significant internal adjustment. Certain physical issues like skin conditions or digestive issues may get worse before they get better, as they express out of you. You may feel run-down. You will lose weight.
Make no mistake, undertaking a dieta is a type of physical trial, very much like fasting. It could be called a semi-fast. So with all the discomfort involved, it’s only natural that some groups question the usefulness of this process. “It’s not as traditional as some shamans say, but a new invention. You don’t need to diet, the old cultures didn’t do this. It’s pointless, superstitious dogma.” It’s understandable to question something that looks like mild self-abuse, and I’ve been doing the same while undertaking my own dietas in the Peruvian Amazon.
So besides the basic physical benefits of an occasional fast, why subject oneself to this while drinking Ayahuasca? What is the limited diet really accomplishing, if anything, and is it worth the trouble? Here are the in-depth answers I’ve observed so far.
One of the biggest shocks, when tasting your first post-dieta meal, is the intensity of even basic flavours; not to mention the crazy loudness of salt! Loudness, yes, it’s something that screams on your tongue! And that’s a big clue about what your time in semi-fast has done to you: You’ve become extremely sensitive!
With the absence of intense stimulation, your tongue has become aware of entire ranges of subtlety its been too overloaded to sense. The new volumes of flavor discovered in a simple potato attest to that. And the strange fact is, giving your tongue this break has also given your mind a break from receiving all that flavour-sound. Your actual state of awareness has become more sensitive by quieting your tongue. The tongue-mind connection is very apparent in that fist shock of salt, post-dieta. To the mind, it’s like a bucket of cold water – A shiver runs through you and your mind seems to snap-to, out of some state of deep rest. Nothing lifts low spirits after a rough dieta like that first pinch of salt; once again, the tongue-mind connection demonstrated.
The dieta not only removes flavour, but also fragrances are forbidden, again removing a level of stimulus from the senses. Socializing is meant to be at a minimum, again to allow the internal state to settle to its most still. Dieta camps are in generally isolated places, away from the sounds of the city, the information-assault of advertising, music, television, energies and stimulus beaming all over the place – Gone.
The dieta teaches you that every stimulus your body receives (Sound, Taste, Touch, Smell, Sight) is constantly resonating in your whole being, and sticks with you for a while. Removing excessive and un-necessary stimulus, on all fronts, opens not only our physical senses to forgotten subtleties but also our own spirit. All of these senses, given a rest, combine to return your entire spirit to silence, sensitivity.
Is it any wonder then, that monks of many cultures have used traditional fasting and isolation, when trying to reach-out to god/spirit?
Now imagine being in this spiritually sensitive state, while working with powerful medicinal plants which channel all kinds of spirits and subtle energies. Yes, fasting is a great tool for squeezing every drop out of your time with Ayahuasca and the plants! It’s an act of quieting the self, on all channels, to better hear the more subtle messages brought by the medicine, to the song of the spirits, or the hidden issues rising out of your own body. Dieta is a period of intense ‘listening’.
Fasting is part of giving the self that silence. Becoming the silence.
Think of a sponge, heavy with water. Now pour some coffee over it. How much coffee actually gets inside the sponge? Not much! Perform the same experiment with a dry sponge, and you’ll soon have a pure coffee-sponge.
That simple image completely covers this next point: A hungry body is primed to absorb anything that comes down the hatch. You can feel it in your flesh, when dieting. It feels as if every cell in your body is presenting an open mouth, like millions of baby birds hopping in a nest, willing to take-in anything helpful. Now say “aaaah” – Here comes the medicine! What a great state to be in, for soaking plant-medicine into every corner of the body. The dieta prepares you for maximum physical absorption, just like a dry sponge.
And we’re not just talking about your body, but once again ‘you’ as well. Absorbance is Receptivity; Readiness to take. For example, the idea of eating certain foods you don’t like; suddenly while fasting, you’d eat that thing just to have something interesting to digest! The previously unpalatable has become interesting. And so once again, we explore the amazing relation between mind and body. Not only will your body be more receptive to food options, but ‘you’ will be more receptive to swallowing ideas passing through the mind as well!
Not more sensitive, we already covered that. More RECEPTIVE to them. More willing to take the hard life lessons, the sour advice, the uncomfortable solutions, the difficult changes you realize are prescribed for your life. Thoughts which may have been floating around inside you for a very long time, left unabsorbed for lack of wanting to taste them. In the hungry state, you’re suddenly less picky about digesting whatever thoughts come.
Sometimes that simple shift is someone’s exact moment of massive healing.
You may be noticing a pattern so far, that the state of our body keeps reflecting in our state of mind/spirit. So what else happens when the body is dealing with partial-starvation? Your whole mind enters what I call ‘priorities-mode’. This is a deep-rooted evolutionary reaction that happens, meant to ensure you waste less energy, and focus what energy you have towards the basic needs to ensure survival. It’s not only to help you focus on finding food, but also to avoid actions that burn un-necessary calories, take un-necessary risks, or waste un-necessary time. In other words, the priorities-mode switch sits very deep and affects every kind of decision you make while in that state.
Again, what better state could one wish to be in, when re-evaluating one’s life; facing one’s serious issues; re-arranging one’s entire thought-structure? Priorities-mode primes you for making decisions not based on preference or comfort, but necessity, survival, efficiency. You’ll see it, as you come to many seemingly no-brainer life decisions, which you had lost in the mess of low-priority junk choices. The junk just drops away. Priorities!
Some personalities go with the flow without much fight, which makes them very good psychonauts but also very ‘supple’ at receiving healing. Other people have more tenacity, are harder to budge, which can be a blessing or a curse. A strong resister will be able to stand up to great forces, in the pursuit of difficult goals or in a struggle for survival or victory. But high-resisters can also be impossible to reach, for healing, because they’re resisting the medicine’s penetration or holding on tightly to their core issues, unwilling to release to the truth/solution. The strongest heroes are also the hardest to heal because healing so often requires your willing release. Enter the semi-fast, once again, which has put you in a weakened state.
While dieting, one will find that their formerly permanent grip in struggles has become much shorter. You just don’t have the mental energy to keep resisting, and are much more willing to ‘break’. The dieta has softened you up. This may sound bad, but for high-resisters this is invaluably helpful in promoting release, wherever ‘supreme holding’ is exactly the illness.
I can’t tell you how many lessons, great leaps in progress, elated senses of freedom, have come in my own journeys only after Ayahuasca had to run me into the ground in a marathon of insistence, until I lost all strength to fight and gave up. The semi-fast of dieta cuts your burn-out time much shorter, making the medicine’s work more time efficient, increasing progress.
In all matters of working with Ayahuasca, resisting and holding are the only true limiters on one’s progress. So why not greatly reduce your ability to resist, just for a while?
On a seemingly contradictory note – strength!
One of the nice discoveries one makes in a dieta is how surprisingly tough the body is! While you may feel weak or tired in a dieta, one can’t ignore that the body keeps working just fine through all of it, even with very basic food intake. We who live in western societies, don’t know starvation or much physical struggle, and have lived in the lap of luxury all our lives tend to assume ourselves more fragile than we actually are. This can sometimes be at the root of many peoples’ personal issues, such as a victim-complex, weakness-complex or hypochondria.
For those and other cases, it can be a wonderful thing to realize the body is such a magnificently sturdy and adaptable work-horse.
You will become more connected with your body in a dieta, as you watch it react to various changes and challenges of the fast and medicines. You’ll become a cheerleader for your body, as you watch it stay strong against the challenge you’ve thrown it. You will become very aware of the messages it whispers, sometimes screams, which you now hear as you give it more attention than you usually do. You may come to a sense of great gratitude for this beast which carries you through life, and learn to regard it with more respect than you previously did. It’s not uncommon to make serious life decisions about diet and exercise, because of this increased appreciation for the body.
Sometimes, that alone can be the moment of big healing. A moment brought to you by the dieta fast.
Finally, there’s appreciation. Nothing puts you in a state of gratitude like not-having for a while.
It comes with every sight of the daily meals, as someone comes down the trail to deliver them. It comes with every bite of that amazingly tasty, occasional potato. It comes with every sense of healing and relief one might run across in one’s personal work. And it comes in a big way, when you’re served that first, tasty, salty post-dieta meal. You’ll likely go forward needing less to be satisfied, overall. Less sugar, less salt, less fanciness, less need to satisfy. Your heart has remembered gratitude, and the greed which had grown from your luxuries has also diminished.
“Gracias a todos! Thank you to the medicine, to everyone who supported my dieta, to the richness of the life I’m returning to, to my warm bed, to those who love me and worried while I was away, to friends eager to hear my story, to everything I didn’t appreciate until I was without it. Thank you for my life, however long I keep it, and to all the life which supports it!”
More good medicine, brought about by the dieta process.
And finally thank you, fellow-human, for reading my article. The next piece in this series will look at the dieta and sex.
‘i’ is an Ayahuasca apprentice, podcaster, and writer – Currently working at a dieta center near Tarapoto, Peru.