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inedia (breatharianism)

"I tried breatharianism once, except I thought it was called anorexia." --Oshinn Cerra

Inedia is the alleged ability to live without food. Some inediates become breatharians, like the stigmatic Therese Neumann (1898-1962) of Bavaria, who said “one can live on the Holy Breath alone.” She claims to have done this from 1926-1962, during which time she says she only consumed her daily serving of transubstantiated bread.

Today, extreme fasting is usually done to lose weight for reasons of health or vanity. Fasting for vanity can be unhealthy, as is obvious in the case of those who are said to suffer from the psychiatric disorder anorexia nervosa. In earlier centuries, however, fasting was usually associated with the supernatural or the paranormal. In the nineteenth-century, for example, there were enough cases of extreme fasting by females to call them "fasting girls."

Fasting has long been considered a way to purify one’s body and mind. Fasting reminds us of our dependence and weakness, and links us to those who suffer hunger as part of their daily lives. Inediates strive to be spiritual beings and carry fasting to an inhuman level. If restraint, self-control, and reducing one’s intake of food and water are good, then eliminating all physical nourishment must be better. Spiritual beings don’t need food, water, or sleep. Maybe so, but  food, water and sleep are not optional for human beings.

One inediate who has been attracting followers to breatharianism is Australian Ellen Greve, a.k.a. Jasmuheen. According to Greve, a former financial advisor, we can get all the nutrition we need from prana, the universal life force. She is the author of Living on Light: A Source of Nutrition for the New Millennium, a 21-day program that will allow the body to stop aging and attain immortality by living solely on light.

Greve claims she hasn’t eaten since 1993; yet, she admits “she drinks herbal teas and confesses to the occasional ‘taste orgasm’ involving chocolate or ice cream” (Sunday Times Online UK, Sept. 26, 1999). She also admits “if I feel a bit bored and I want some flavour, then I will have a mouthful of whatever it is I’m wanting the flavour of. So it might be a piece of chocolate or it might be a mouthful of a cheesecake or something like that.”*  Several interviewers have found her house full of food, but she claims the food is for her husband, who once went to prison for misappropriating a pension fund. Apparently he hasn’t seen the light and is unable to live on prana yet (Walker and O’Reilly 1999).

Greve runs the Cosmic Internet Academy (C.I.A.) and claims to have 5,000 followers worldwide. People pay over $2,000 to attend her seminars. There are many, apparently, who are not bothered by the contradiction of saying one needs only prana (or is it light?) but admits to the odd sweet and cup of tea, and has a house full of food. This “diet” is changing her chromosomes, she says. Her “DNA is changing to take up more hydrogen and is developing from 2 to 12 strands.”* Greve also claims that the starving of the world would be just fine if they could only be “re-programmed”. They starve to death, she says, because the mass media has tricked them into thinking they need food.*  Such gibberish would get some people into treatment; instead, she makes world tours promoting her book. At least three of Greve’s followers have starved to death while trying to purify themselves with total fasting. Despite the dangerousness of her insane teachings, in the fall of 1999, the Australian television program “60 Minutes” tested her ability to live on prana, the “light of God [sic].”

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. 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 per cent 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.*  Clearly, had the test continued, she would have died. Instead, she lived to lead others to their deaths.

Another inspiration for breatharianism is Wiley Brooks, who heads The Breatharian Institute of America. For the past thirty years or so, Brooks has been claiming that we don’t need food, water, or sleep. He asks “if food is so good for you, how come the body keeps trying to get rid of it?...Man was not designed to be a garbage can.” He claims that adepts and yogis have been living on air for millennia. Brooks offers workshops to train people in the art of living on air. In the beginning, he charged $500 for these workshops; at one point he was asking for $10,000,000 and promising to increase the fee to $25,000,000 in January 2008. In May of 2010, he was charging $100,000. I'm sure that includes all meals. Brooks may seem to have lost his mind but he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the belief that we can live without food continues to spread. A sixty-four-year-old retired mechanical engineer from India, Hira Ratan Manek, claims that he lives on boiled water and energy from the sun. In effect, he claims he's turned his body into a photovoltaic cell that converts the rays of the sun into nutritional energy. As would be expected in this age of faith-based gullibility, Manek has a cult following, as does Tapaswi Palden Dorje (Ram Bahadur Bomjan) whose followers claim that he has not eaten or drunk water since he was bitten by a poisonous snake on November 6, 2005. Palden Dorje's followers believe the snake bite gave him enlightenment as evidence by a bright light they saw coming from their guru's head. It is claimed that since he got enlightened, the guru does nothing but meditate for world peace. He has been just as effective as all his brethren in the West who have been praying for world peace for centuries.

A website devoted to the guru asserts:

All witnesses claimed that Guru neither ate, drank, or left to relieve himself.  He just sat and meditated under the pipal tree. Baffled onlookers were ever increasing. There were stories of miracles: a girl and a young man had gained the power of speech although they could not speak.

I expect he heals the sick as well.

Another Indian god-man, Prahlad Jani, claims he hasn't eaten any food or drunk any water for over 70 years. He even found a doctor, Sudhir Shah, to test him and validate his claims. Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association has called Jani a "village fraud" and has chastised Shah for not allowing any skeptics to be involved in the alleged surveillance and testing of Jani. According to Edamaruku:

Dr. Shah has been in charge of three similar investigations over the past ten years, and he has never allowed independent verification. In 2000, he was asking for funds to investigate a man he claimed got his energy from the sun, just like plants do. In 2003, he even approached NASA for funds to investigate Mr. Jani, claiming astronauts might benefit from the research. This particular hospital, led by this particular doctor, keeps on making these claims without ever producing evidence or publishing research.

Allegedly, India's military is interested in Jani because he may hold the key to helping soldiers survive longer without food.

See also faith healing, SD Newsletter 34 - Prahlad Jani, SD Newsletter 115 - Open-mindedness and Skepticism, and Dr. Sudhir Shah and Prahlad Jani.

further reading


Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (U of California Press, 1988).


Starving Sarah - Providentia The story of Sarah Jacob, a 19th century Welsh inediate.

Correx Files on Jasmuheen

Darwin Awards 1999

A Really Light Lunch by D. Trull

A Light Lunch


Living on light: woman attempts to prove humans can live without food A 65-year-old Seattle woman is attempting to go 100 days on just water, shunning all medical advice in the process

Questions. Why stop at 100 days? and How did she ever make it to 65?

Next this inediate will be telling us that she's now getting Light Information from the Cosmic Source, which she will share in seminars all over the world for a modest fee. Wait. That's already been done. On the other hand, the Seattle inediate may really believe her delusion and end up like the lady in Switzerland who tried the light diet and died.

update: Naveena Shine has stopped her experiment in living on water, tea, and light alone. The universe, she believes, wants her to eat so she can pay the bills. Her 47-day effort obviously has had no detrimental effect on her ability to think clearly. She derided scientists (and ordinary people with a basic knowledge of physiology) for not grasping how the human body doesn't need food and can exist on light alone. She leaves the center of attention for now with this parting shot: "From the feedback I am getting, it is becoming patently clear that most of the world is by no means ready to receive the information I am attempting to produce. Even if it were true that a person can 'live on light' and I were successful in demonstrating that, I see that it would be synonymous with putting a non-driver behind the wheel of a huge truck. It would be an accident in the making." She's seen the light and the light tells her the world's not ready for the light. This would be funny if she didn't believe her rationalizations were true and if the Guardian didn't feel the need to explain to readers that humans lack chloroplasts and aren't plants.

Yogi beaten by bear necessities of life without food "I don't believe it's real," says Australian nutritionist Professor Peter Clifton, a co-author of the Total Wellbeing Diet book....Bears are one example of mammals that fatten themselves up before going into a dormant state, Professor Clifton says...."But yogis don't generally have fat stores like a bear."

Experts reject 'starving' holy man's tale Nutrition experts say Mr Jani’s story is tough to swallow.

"Fifteen days doesn’t prove decades — he wouldn’t survive without food or water," Nutrition Australia spokeswoman Aloysa Hourigan told ninemsn.

"[Before starvation] you would start to get vitamin deficiency and your heart muscle and brain function would fail."

Last updated 18-Jun-2013

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