The Ohsawa diet is derived from the macrobiotic diet principles. Most people use it for detox and weight loss, but it has much subtler advantages as it is a way to re-balance the yin-yang energies of the body. A well-balanced body is able to heal itself, to lose weight and to improve the functioning of all its internal organs.
It’s time now for a little bit of history
George Ohsawa (born Yukikazu Sakurazawa) managed to revert his incurable diseases at the age of 18 by following the principles of what is now known as macrobiotic diet. In short, the healing technique is based on a few principles:
Foods are the foundation of health and well-being (including a positive state of mind).
Each food has a yin/yang balance. Some foods are mostly yin, while others are mostly yang. Their characteristics are strongly determined by their content of sodium and potassium but they also depend on the cooking method.
Grain is properly the staple of man.
Foods should be natural and unrefined.
Foods should be grown locally and eaten in their season.
A very interesting fact is that sodium and potassium govern the water balance in the cell and in the interstitial space. Having a well-balanced amount of sodium and potassium determines the health of EVERY SINGLE LIVING CELL.
Table of Contents
- 1 It’s time now for a little bit of history
- 2 The subtle energy of foods
- 3 Why would you have such a diet?
- 4 An overview of the Ohsawa diet
- 5 What to expect when dieting?
- 6 How much does it cost?
- 7 My day-by-day journal
- 8 Conclusions
After George Ohsawa managed to cure his diseases completely, he started to write various articles and books about these principles, the result being the birth of the macrobiotic diet. What is commonly known as the Ohsawa diet is a short period of time when only “neutral” foods are consumed, in order to allow the body to regulate itself.
The subtle energy of foods
Here are a few examples of yin-yang foods:
Banana, Celery, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Pineapple, Grapefruit
Peppermint, Green tea, Oranges, Cabbage, Apples, Strawberries, Mushrooms
Rice, Broccoli, Ginger, Garlic, Cooked tomato, Spinach, Black tea, Nectarines
Nuts, Avocado, Lichee, Coffee, Eggplant, Grilled and fried foods
Grains and beans are mostly neutral foods, brown rice being considered the most neutral one.
Why would you have such a diet?
The energetic balance of the body is the foundation of health. The Ohsawa diet is efficient in these situations:
Healing from chronic / “incurable” diseases, even cancer.
There are multiple reports of people being completely cured from diseases by undertaking this diet. Since any illness is the expression of an energy imbalance, restoring the correct yin-yang balance allows the body to heal.
Eliminating toxins clears the burden from the body, enabling it to function better and more efficiently. The Ohsawa diet has a strong detoxification effect, therefore it can be used as such.
For weight loss.
Weight problems don’t come by themselves, they are the expression of an incorrect diet and lifestyle. Body fat is also a way to isolate toxins so they don’t harm the vital organs. Following a healthy diet results in weight loss, as the body has the chance to eliminate the fat deposits.
An overview of the Ohsawa diet
The Ohsawa diet lasts for 10 days and can be repeated if necessary, after a pause of at least a week. There are only 4 foods allowed: wheat, rice, millet and buckwheat – and salt. The only liquid permitted is plain, pure water. That’s it, no coffee, teas or other foods. There are some variations which allow certain quantities of fruits but in my opinion this defeats the purpose of the diet, because they shift the balance towards yin.
You see, the cereals above are in the middle of the yin-yang scale, being the most neutral. Most people today (over 90%) are more yin than yang. This happens because pollution, toxicity, pesticides and many foods are more yin than yang. This might become a problem even for vegetarians since they don’t eat meat or grilled/fried foods which are yang.
As a note, it’s interesting to mention that yin is cooling, while yang is warming. People living on the tropics (yang climate) eat more vegetables and fruits, which have a cooling effect (yin). The opposite happens with the ones living up north, where the climate is yin (cool) so they need to balance this by eating mostly yang foods (meat). A good example are the Eskimos, who enjoy good health while eating mostly animal products.
When preparing for the Ohsawa diet, choose whole grains, brown rice and preferably organically grown products. Wheat is especially problematic since it is so hybridized that it is quite difficult to find a clean source. If you don’t have good quality wheat you can eat less and replace it with brown rice.
Most fruits are yin. This means they will tip the balance towards yin, thus reducing the efficiency of the diet. I don’t know about you, but my philosophy is: if I do something, especially something difficult, I prefer to do it well. I don’t like half-measures. Once I decide to follow a diet, especially such a restrictive one, I want to maximize all the benefits possible.
Therefore, I have chosen the original version, without any fruits.
The allowed foods can be eaten in any quantity, any proportion and can be cooked in any way. They can be boiled, roasted, mixed together, it doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t feel hungry so eat as much as you need. Also, drink a lot of water, since detoxification will occur and water helps flushing the toxins out of the body. The grains themselves don’t contain much water, so be aware that you’ll need around 60-100 oz (2-3 liters) per day. The rule of thumb is: don’t let yourself to be thirsty.
I have to warn you, the Ohsawa diet is one of the most difficult diets to stick to. Hunger is not a problem, but taste is. Actually, the lack of taste. It is quite dull and monotonous to eat cereals all day long for 10 days. For me this is the second time I have done it. The first time I resisted only 7 days out of 10. Now I feel more confident, as I already have the experience of several fasts and being a vegan certainly helps a lot in terms of willpower and cravings.
What to expect when dieting?
Usually the first days bring increased fatigue and drowsiness due to the detoxification effect. These symptoms vary from person to person. People with chronic diseases or on unhealthy diets will experience the worst symptoms. When suffering from a health problem, it is important to consult with your practitioner before starting this diet!
After the first 3-4 days, your energy should increase and a feeling of overall well-being should install. This means the toxins have been released and the body is now healing itself. You can also experience feeling colder than usual since the metabolic rate is decreased (no yang foods to warm the body)
How much does it cost?
This is one of the cheapest diets ever. I measured the combined daily quantity of food intake and I’ve discovered that it doesn’t exceed a pound (about 400 – 500g tops). Multiplying by 10 days, this is around 10 lbs of cereals (5 kg). Cereals are cheap so the cost is much reduced, as compared to a normal vegetarian diet for the same period of time. Not to mention that you can’t eat out and this contributes to overall savings.
My day-by-day journal
Here is my day-by-day journal with my experiences during the Ohsawa diet for 10 days. Remember that quantities are given only for reference and they are not critical.
Roughly, 1/2 cup is around 100g and a glass of water is 0.25 liter.
Today was the first day of my Ohsawa experiment. For breakfast I boiled 1/2 cup of brown rice. It takes about a half hour to be ready, so I will need to plan my meals ahead, especially if I am hungry or I’m out.
For lunch I had about 1 cup of whole wheat flour mixed with water and salt as dough, spread on parchment paper and baked in the oven. On top I sprinkled millet to add some taste. The result is quite crunchy so good teeth are a must, otherwise it would be quite difficult to chew it.
For supper, I boiled 1/2 cup of wheat with some salt for 30 minutes. Wheat needs to be soaked for at least 8 hours before, otherwise it will take forever to boil it.
In between meals I drank a lot of water (around 8 – 10 glasses).
My overall energy level was steady throughout the day, no fatigue or noticeable drowsiness. I was able to sustain intellectual work but I didn’t have too much physical activity. My overnight sleep was good and restful.
Overall, the day felt very much like any other.
Breakfast: 1/2 cup of buckwheat scalded in hot water
Lunch: 1/2 cup of wheat roasted in the pan (the wheat was soaked overnight, no oil was used, just some salt on top)
Dinner: 1/2 cup of wheat mixed with half a cup of brown rice, boiled.
As usual, lots of water (around 8 – 10 glasses)
I definitely felt colder this day and I experienced a bit of fatigue. However, I was able to sustain intellectual work and moderate physical activity. Sleep came earlier as well, at around 23:30 (my usual sleeping time is around midnight or after).
Breakfast: I didn’t have time to eat, nor was I hungry.
Lunch: polenta made with 1/2 cup of millet flour boiled in salty water (this is definitely the tastiest recipe so far!)
Dinner: 1/2 cup wheat + 1/4 cup brown rice, boiled
Overall this day was much like the previous one – some feeble signs of fatigue and drowsiness but nothing really bad. I noticed that no matter what grains I eat, it doesn’t seem to influence these symptoms, as long as I’m not hungry.
Breakfast: millet polenta (see day 3)
Lunch: 1/3 cup of boiled buckwheat (I don’t like the taste of buckwheat, but I’m eating it for its mineral content and for diversity)
Dinner: 1/2 cup wheat + 1/4 cup brown rice, boiled together
It started to become dull, thank God for the millet polenta, which I have enjoyed the most so far. There are other recipes as well but they usually demand more manual labor and I don’t want to waste too much time with them. I didn’t feel so drowsy today, but the cold sensation is annoying.
Breakfast: 3/4 cup of boiled rice (I woke up late and hungry)
Lunch: 1/2 cup of boiled buckwheat (no, I still don’t like its taste)
Dinner: 1 cup of boiled wheat with salt
Interestingly, although I was able to work today, I didn’t feel much like doing it. I was drowsy, lazy and my mood dropped. I felt like nothing interested me anymore, therefore I went for a nap in the afternoon. Afterwards I felt a little bit better.
By now I would have expected an energy increase but it doesn’t seem to be the case so far.
Breakfast: 1/2 cup, millet polenta
Lunch: 1/2 cup of boiled, brown rice
Dinner: 3/4 cup of pan roasted wheat
I didn’t sleep very well, as I had a slight insomnia around 5 am. I was able to fall asleep only after an hour or so, so I woke up at 10:30 in the morning, which is EXTREMELY late for me. On the positive side, I was energetic and happy. I was able to maintain my energy level through the day. However, it didn’t seem I could sustain too much physical activity, so I limited it.
Breakfast: 3/4 cup of boiled rice
Lunch: 1/4 cup of buckwheat
Dinner: 1 cup of roasted wheat
I also woke up quite late and the energy lasted for the first half of the day. Afterwards I became a little bit drowsy so I preferred to read instead of doing other work. Fortunately I had nothing urgent to do, so I allowed myself to linger around this time. It was a great time for meditation, though. I usually spend at most 1 hour per day meditating – this time I spent around 2 hours and it was great! So this diet definitely enhances the mood for spiritual work – meditation, listening to music, reading and so forth. In the evening I played the piano but my creativity was not at its peak, so I didn’t feel in the mood to compose anything.
Breakfast: 3/4 cup of boiled wheat
Lunch: 1/4 cup buckwheat
Dinner: 1 cup wheat, 1/4 cup millet “bread”. This was made by mixing wheat and millet flour with water and salt, then baking the dough in the oven at 370 degrees Fahrenheit (around 180 degrees Celsius)
There was nothing particular to mention for the day. I had the same feeling of cold and moderate drowsiness. I’ve read somewhere that there are people willing to go on a brown rice diet for longer periods of time. Judging by my experience, I wouldn’t recommend it. I certainly feel better on a raw vegan diet. There is a slight discomfort in point of digestion but it’s hard to describe. It’s like overeating or eating too fast. This feeling lasted the whole day. Maybe this is why George Ohsawa recommends 10 days, then a pause – the body starts to react to grains.
Breakfast: 1/2 cup millet polenta
Dinner: 1 cup wheat porridge.
After eating the millet polenta, I felt quite uncomfortable the whole day. I didn’t have any digestive problems, just discomfort. By now, I am glad there is little time left. I also skipped lunch since I was still feeling full from breakfast.
Breakfast: 3/4 cup boiled brown rice
Dinner: 3/4 cup roasted brown rice
Finally, this is the last day. The symptoms of fullness and the slight discomfort continued throughout the day, so I also skipped lunch. Today I wanted to go with rice only, so I boiled a larger quantity in the morning and split it in half. I ate one half for breakfast and kept the rest in the fridge. In the evening I roasted the remaining rice in a pan. Roasting improves the taste a little bit, the rice acquires a nutty flavor. It’s better to use white rice to roast, but brown rice has more nutrients so I sticked with it. On the positive side, I had more energy and I was able to work throughout the day with almost no pause.
I am really glad I finished the Ohsawa diet for the second time. To my surprise, it was quite different from the first time, when I resisted only 7 days before giving up.
The first time I did it, it was much more difficult to resist cravings and temptations. The smell of other foods or the simple thought of a flavor drove me nuts. Now, I even had a birthday gathering and it was quite easy for me to abstain from foods and drinks (other than plain water, of course).
This time I wasn’t hungry anymore, but towards the end I experienced a constant discomfort like a stomach ache. Maybe it happened because of the extra 3 days – I don’t know. Another reason might be the quantity of wheat – maybe it would have been better to eat less wheat and more brown rice. Wheat has gluten and even if I’m not gluten-intolerant, it might be too much for my body to handle constantly.
Since Ohsawa is also a weight loss diet, I think it is good to cover this aspect as well. In 10 days I lost about 15 pounds (7 kg). Having the experience of other fasts, it didn’t come as a surprise, as it seems this is my weight loss limit. I am not fat even when eating normally, so losing all these pounds is quite impressive. The bottom-line: this diet works very well as a weight loss diet.
If you want to try the Ohsawa diet, here are a few tips that might help you:
Pick a period when you are not too busy at work or have a lot of things to do – especially if you work in a creative domain.
It’s better to have it in a cold season, since there are less temptations to handle. Also, everything has to be cooked and this suits better the yin-yang philosophy.
Plan your meals before. Wheat needs to be soaked overnight or for at least 8 hours. Remember, brown rice boils longer than white rice.
Get a good grinder – you might need it for millet and wheat.
Print a list of Ohsawa recipes and stick it somewhere in the kitchen.
Prepare to feel cold and do your best to stay warm. If you really can’t stand the cold, then it’s best to do it in the summer.
Don’t plan for too much physical exercise, you probably won’t have enough energy. Instead, you can do yoga, some light exercise and meditation.
Avoid going out or to parties. Yeah, this sucks, but trust me, it’s much harder to be there when you are on the Ohsawa diet. Especially if you’re a male, expect the waiters to look at you in amusement when you ask only for a bottle of plain water.
Get the family support if you all live under the same roof. During the Ohsawa diet the smell and the taste buds suffer a reset and become much more sensitive. You don’t want to smell fresh and delicious foods three times a day, this can easily break down any motivation!
No coffee, tea or even commercial toothpaste. Avoid any kind of chemical or external substance, even current ones such as commercial deodorants. The goal is to eliminate the toxins from your body, so don’t add even more. You can brush your teeth with a mixture of salt and baking soda, which has a pleasant side effect: your teeth become whiter.
I hope this article helped you to gain deeper knowledge of the Ohsawa diet and its benefits, as well as its tough points. Willpower is the key here and if you want to follow the diet, you certainly need to be determined and motivated. It’s not easy, especially if you’re not used to dieting, but the advantages are well worth the effort.
Good luck and leave your comments and questions below.