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Inedia Diet - Breatharians

A breatharian is someone who believes that food (and possibly water) are not necessary for human sustenance. Breatharians claim that the body can be sustained solely by prana (the vital life force in Hinduism), or according to some, by the energy in sunlight. There have been no verified cases of this occurring indefinitely to date.

Breatharianism or inedia may also refer to this philosophy practiced as a lifestyle in place of the usual diet. While it is often seen as an esoteric practice performed by eastern ascetics, recently some groups such as the Breatharian Institute of America have promoted the practice as an option for anybody, once the proper techniques for accessing it are made known.

Both current scientific theories about nutrition and generally accepted common sense indicate that a person who followed this practice in the long term would die of starvation (if abstaining from food) or dehydration (if abstaining from food and water). As breatharians have seldom submitted themselves to medical testing, there is currently little evidence to support their claims.

Jasmuheen

Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was probably the most famous advocate of breatharianism during the 1990s. She claimed "I can go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea. My body runs on a different kind of nourishment."Several interviewers found her house full of food, but she claimed the food was for her husband. In 1999, she volunteered to be monitored closely by Australia's 60 Minutes for one month without eating to demonstrate her methods. After Greve had fasted for four days, Dr. Berris Wink, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, urged her to stop the test. According to the doctor, Greve’s pupils were dilated, her speech was slow, she was dehydrated and her pulse had doubled. The doctor feared kidney damage if she continued with the fast. The test was stopped. She claimed it was due to stress and pollution from a nearby road. Greve claimed that she failed because on the first day of the test she had been confined in a hotel room near a busy road, which kept her from getting the nutrients she needs from the air. “I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe,” she said. However, the last three days of the test took place at a mountainside retreat where she could get plenty of fresh air and where she claimed she could now live happily. She challenged the results of the program, saying, "Look, 6,000 people have done this around the world without any problem".

The well-publicized deaths of 49-year-old Australian-born Scotland resident Verity Linn, 31-year-old Munich kindergarten teacher Timo Degen, and 53-year-old Melbourne resident Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris while attempting to enter the breatharian "diet" have drawn further criticism of the idea. Jim Vadim Pesnak, 63, and his wife Eugenia, 60, went to jail for three years on charges of manslaughter for their involvement in the death of Morris.

Verity Lynn, the Scottish woman who inadvertently killed herself by choosing the Breatharian "diet" was a nominee for the 1999 Darwin Awards. She took to the highlands, the article says, "with only a tent and her grit and determination." She died of hypothermia and dehydration, aggravated by lack of food. Jasmuheen claimed that her death was brought on by a psycho-spiritual problem, rather than a physiological one.

Jasmuheen has denied any involvement with the three deaths and claims she cannot be held responsible for the actions of her followers.

Jasmuheen was awarded the Bent Spoon award by Australian Skeptics in 2000 ("presented to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle").

Prahlad Jani

Prahlad Jani, a fakir, spent ten days under strict observation by physicians in Ahmedabad, India in 2003. During the observation, he was given only 100 millilitres of water a day to use as mouthwash, which was collected and measured after he used it, to make sure he hadn't consumed any. Throughout the observation, he passed no urine or stool, but doctors say urine appeared to form in the bladder, only to be reabsorbed. However, despite Jani's claim to have gone without food for decades, Jani was not engaged in strenuous exercise during the ten-day trial, and longer trials were not recorded under similarly strict observation. Further, his weight did drop slightly during the 10 days to later stabilize, casting some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food. Jani claims a goddess sustains him through nectar that filters down through a hole in his palate.

Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi details two alleged historical examples of breatharianism, Giri Bala and Therese Neumann.

Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism also has traditions of inedia, in which saints are able to go for months or years without any food (or with no food but Communion).Such saints include:

* Alphais
* Helen Enselmini
* Elisabeth the Good
* Lydwina of Schiedam
* Mary Ann de Paredes
* Nicholas of Flue (According to legend, he survived for nineteen years with no food except for the eucharist.)

Other explanations

Other than a simple confidence trick, skeptics can also point to somnambulism as an alternative explanation for this purported phenomenon. The most common sleep activity is sleepwalking, but activities such as eating, dressing or even driving cars have also been recorded as taking place while the subjects are technically asleep.


Links to related pages

Proponents

Breatharian.info - Information and forum about breatharianism

The Breatharian Institute Of America - Wiley Brooks' organization

Jasmuheen.com - Jasmuheen's organization

Case studies

A list of historical and contemporary breatharians

BBC story: Fasting fakir flummoxes physicians - article about Prahlad Jani, who claims to have not eaten anything in 68 years

Prahlad Jani - Ten Day Study Medical Case Summary

BBC story: Guru condemned as 'dangerous'

BBC story: Woman 'starved herself to death'

Scientist skips food, 'survives" by solar energy - article about Dr. Michael Werner, who claims to have not eaten anything in four years

Sunlight, water are the only sustenance he needs - article about Hira Ratan Manek, who claims to have eaten no food since 1995

Description of Hira Ratan Manek's fasting

Critics

Skeptic's Dictionary article about breatharianism

Skeptic's Dictionary on prana, which breatharians claim to be sustained by

Breatharian information from the Rick Ross Institute for Cults, Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements

 


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