from Chapter 6: Off to the Amazon
A Description of the Ayahuasca Diet
The diet, as was explained to the group by Jack weeks before our departure for Peru, is used to cleanse the system, and it should be started at least a week before the retreat. It includes abstaining from red meat and pork, and cutting back on or also eliminating chicken and fish; cutting out all salt, pepper, and most other spices, especially hot spices and chili-type peppers; sugar, including most desserts and pastries; fats and oils; yeast products; fermented foods such as soy and tofu, and pickled foods; acidic foods; citrus, and dairy products. In addition, alcohol is prohibited, as are coffee, tea, and other caffeine-containing drinks. Cold or iced drinks are also discouraged. One must also abstain from sex. No medicines are allowed, even prescription medicines, especially those that act as MAO-inhibitors or are tranquilizers or antidepressants. Most over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and cold remedies, are not allowed either.
The diet itself does not refer to the food and medicine restrictions, but to the overall experience of going into the jungle to work with a single, or a few, plants. One undertakes a retreat to work with a particular plant, to get to know its effects and how to use it--to befriend its spirit and, if one is so honored, to accept its offer to become one’s ally. Fernando explained, “The diet [retreat] is undertaken for a period of time. It may be eight days, fifteen days, one month, or three months. It depends on the effects of the individual body and is directed by the shaman. Every day the shaman comes to the student and gives him a plant. In general, you do one plant, and take that same plant every day for the duration of the diet. We will do this, but we will also add ayahuasca every other night, with one back-to-back session on two consecutive nights.
“These are the rules of the diet. Salt is the door to enter the diet and to leave it. You stop [eating] salt to enter the door. We’ll be eating a bland diet of quinoa [a grain], oats, rice, and a specific type of fish, if they are in the river and we can catch them. We didn’t make up this diet. It is old. It comes from many generations of use. It is empirical knowledge. Why this diet? I don’t know. We believe it has to do with eating with no flavor. Your sense of smell gets very sensitive. Your body smell changes. Your sight becomes clearer. Your urine becomes very clear. It is similar to a fast. This diet plus the ingestion of the teacher plant empowers you. The diet creates the ideal context for the plants, [so they can] find a space prepared for them in our bodies. You are ingesting the water and active principle of the plant, but the plant is also a spirit. It has spirit, energy, soul. Ingesting plants is not compatible with all things. It is compatible with isolation and the diet and the healer who will lead the ceremonies. To take the best from the diet, it is best to remain relatively isolated. This leads to introspection.”
Here Jack weighed in, expanding on Fernando’s advice and explanation. “You should put nothing artificial on your bodies,” he advised us. “Use no toothpaste, body lotions, shampoo, soap--nothing that is not natural. They interfere with the sharpening of the senses.” Michelle and I looked at each other. Our packs were about to get a lot lighter.
“The diet is not balanced,” Jack admitted, “and it is not much [in portion size]. Your body may weaken some by the fourth, fifth, or sixth day. But you will feel much more perceptively and acutely. You will be more sensitive. When we finish the diet, we will have soup with salt, and our bodies will immediately recover their strength. But during the diet and the five ayahuasca sessions, your body may be very open. This is why we stay in the jungle one extra day. It would be too great a shock on your system to go directly back to Pucallpa. We will do ayahuasca every other day, except for the last two sessions, which will be on two consecutive days. Every day you will drink a plant teacher as well, which will be selected for you by don Luis and don Emilio, based on their reading of your energy. We will eat certain fish if they are available to be caught in the river. This is boquichico, which means “little mouth.” We cannot eat most other types of fish while on the diet, especially those with large teeth or mouths, or those that are bottom-feeders. They disrupt the diet. Normally, when we get to the jungle, you will receive your daily meal at about 10 o'clock in the morning. You’ll drink the plant teacher earlier, probably between eight-thirty and nine o’clock. Then you will eat. There is no other meal on the day of an ayahuasca session. On the off days, you will get a second, small meal in the afternoon, about three o’clock, probably of oatmeal or quinoa with no spices.”