Breaking down the differences and similarities between a master plant dieta and the standard ayahuasca diet.
DIET VS DIETA
When guests arrive at the retreat there is often some confusion about what they were allowed to eat in preparation for the experience. A quick internet search for ‘ayahuasca diet’ will yield the most common results: NO SEX, NO SALT, NO SUGAR, NO OIL, NO MEAT, NO SPICE. If you continue researching, you will find a variety of other restrictions such as no coffee or caffeine, no avocado, no banana, no fermented foods, etc.
So what exactly is the ayahuasca diet? Is it the same as a dieta? Do you really need to abstain from sex? What about alcohol and salt? There is a medical element of the diet (the MAOI diet and pharmaceutical interactions) and there are the spiritual elements of the dieta (fasting & sexual assistance), then the two aspects are combined to create one all-encompassing and extremely intimidating ‘ayahuasca diet.’ The principles of the ‘AYAHUASCA DIET’ and the ‘DIETA’ have become interchangeable to the point of being indistinguishable but don’t worry - I’m here to break it all down and clarify it for you.
WHAT IS A DIETA?
Let’s start by exploring what a shamanic dieta is. A dieta is a sacred agreement with a master plant for a predetermined number of days (usually 7 – 30) with an extremely rigid set of dietary and spiritual regulations that are followed under the guidance of a maestro (ayahuasquero, curandero, shaman). We must understand that master plants are different and separate from ayahuasca. They are teachers of the Amazon that have been recognized for their unique properties and their ability to heal. These plants are used to teach, build defenses, secure protection, learn songs, and cure diseases. Usually, ayahuasca is used in addition to the master plant but it is not a requirement.
The exact restrictions of the dieta will depend on the maestro’s tradition as well as which plant you are dieting. Some dietas require isolation and silence while others require extended days of fasting but all master plant dietas require no sexual activity of any kind (including masturbation), no salt, no sugar, no oil, and no spices. Most dietas also require no vegetables or fruits (although some dietary exceptions are made for certain root vegetables or fruits like green plantain or tomato), no toothpaste, and no perfumes /other toiletries. A typical dieta meal is white rice, boiled potato, and river fish. You eat that and only that for the entirety of your dieta.
The dietary restrictions and periods of fasting are not only for physical cleansing but to clean the spirit and the soul. There is also fasting from electronics and other stimuli. Most of the time dietas are done deep in the jungle without electricity or phone service. The dietas create a sensitivity of the individual spirit to receive the spirits of the plants. This is how we gain protectors, defenders, and allies and these are the spirits that a curandero will call on during a ceremony to initiate healing.
During a dieta you will consume the master plant as directed by the maestro and you will drink ayahuasca. The ayahuasca ceremonies enhance your connection to the master plant allowing you to learn free from other stimuli or distractions. There is much that can be gained from a master plant dieta. It is how ayahuasqueros develop their strength and power.
The dieta requires unwavering commitment because the consequences of breaking a dieta once it has started are profound. The dieta is ended with the reintroduction of foods that were sacrificed. In our lineage, it is a spoonful of salt, garlic, and hot pepper followed by a spoonful of sugar and a slice of lime.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF BREAKING A DIETA
Breaking a dieta before completion can have disastrous energetic and health consequences. If you break your agreement with the master plant, you open yourself to disease and spiritual weakness. The degree of these consequences can be difficult to grasp but the punishment of breaking the dieta is real and severe. The plant continues to teach us there are consequences to our actions, even the act of breaking dieta early is a lesson, an unfortunate one that many young students must endure to take their studies seriously. The only way to remedy these consequences is by repeating the dieta with complete commitment and completion, with many traditions requiring the length to be doubled.
WHO DOES DIETAS AND WHY?
If you have participated in multiple ayahuasca sessions and are feeling called to deepen your relationship with the plants or are feeling called to work with ayahuasca as a facilitator, a master plant dieta is the next step. Master plant dietas are done by students learning the healing ways of the plants and deepening their knowledge of the shamanic path. Many times, these students are visited by the plant spirits during ayahuasca visions and are called to work with them directly, or a maestro will prescribe a dieta to a student. Master plant dietas are also used by those who are sick and are seeking to heal specific diseases or illnesses.
SO WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DIETA AND THE DIET?
The standard ayahuasca diet is a less strict adaptation of the ‘dieta’ restrictions. Most retreat centers in the Amazon use salt, oil, spices, and sugar when cooking for the regular retreat participants and even provide coffee/caffeinated teas. It is completely okay to continue to consume those things before your retreat.
It is true that if you were to adhere to a strict diet free of salt, sugar, oils, vegetables, etc. it could make you more sensitive to the experience, however as retreat leaders, we need to have realistic expectations about what is possible (and probable) for our clients to adopt into their lives, especially those in the West. The cultural aspect must be considered. Many of the elements of spiritual sacrifice and discipline are fulfilled by making modifications to lifestyle and diet before the retreat. So much of the western world is fueled by fast food, pre-made meals, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. By removing red meat, dairy, and alcohol we can really bring awareness to what we consume and that shift can result in significant changes in our physical and spiritual energy. The most important thing is that you approach the experience with respect.
MEDICAL INTERACTIONS AND THE MAOI DIET
The ayahuasca diet also includes medical considerations regarding foods and prescription drugs that are contraindicated with ayahuasca. The MAOI diet requires avoiding foods high in tyramine such as cured meats, aged cheeses, pickled foods, fermented foods, and alcohol. Tyramine is a naturally occurring byproduct of the amino acid Tyrosine. MAOIs block monoamine oxidase, which is an enzyme that breaks down excess tyramine in the body. Consuming foods on the prohibited list can lead to elevated blood pressure. These food interactions are generally considered minor.
Then there are pharmaceutical and recreational drug interactions which can be extremely serious, even deadly, so it’s extremely important these guidelines are taken seriously and that you disclose your medical history to the facilitators. The primary concerns are anti-depressants, stimulants, and CNS depressants. Never withhold any medical information that could affect your safety during a retreat because you are scared you will not be accepted for a retreat. Lying about medical history does not only affect you, but also the retreat center and all the other participants who will have to live through a potentially traumatic medical emergency while under the effects of the medicine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The ayahuasca diet and master plant dietas are two very different and separate concepts. Master plant dietas require complete commitment and rigidness, while the ayahuasca diet is more flexible and will look a little different for everyone, depending on each individual's current lifestyle. Moderate amounts of caffeine, salts, sugars, oils, and spices are all perfectly fine to continue to consume before your retreat. Be aware of what you are putting into your body and your mind (that includes phones, Tv, podcasts, books, relationships, etc.) Very simply, you just need to approach the ayahuasca experience with a great deal of reverence. Adjust your lifestyle and diet to consume foods and stimuli that are nourishing and that is enough to satisfy the spiritual requirements of the ayahuasca diet.