Could there be any more extreme beliefs than those held by people who are convinced that the earth is flat or that we live in a computer-generated matrix? Some people are convinced that it is possible to live without eating or drinking—literally claiming to be “existing on air.” These “breatharians” claim to be feeding on only light and air in addition to so-called “prana,” the supposed vital universal energy (whose existence has never been demonstrated).
For many, the idea of “feeding on light,” as they say, is a captivating siren. They claim that it is possible to “reprogram” one’s body through meditation techniques so that water and food are no longer needed. Too bad it doesn’t work.
A fast can last a few days—a week at most—but after much longer it can be very harmful, leading to death by decay. In the first twenty-four hours, glycogen stocks, the primary source of energy of the cells, are exhausted; to maintain glycemic values in the norm, the body gets the necessary glucose from fats and proteins. However, these soon run out. A fast that also omits water, of course, leads to death much sooner.
About 3,000 people in Europe alone claim to follow this extremely dangerous practice. Fatalities from this practice tend to make the news, though others who practice less restrictive forms may not necessarily come to light and may be more common. Timo Degen, a German kindergarten teacher, learned about breatharianism from a website in 1997. After three weeks of fasting, he went into a coma and died. Then Lina Marcia Roslyn Morris, a fifty-three-year-old Australian, met a couple who convinced her to live on air alone; she died after seven days, and the couple was convicted of her murder. In 1999, a Scottish man named Verity Linn also stumbled across a breatharian website and died from fasting. His body was found two weeks after his death.
Very rarely are those who publicize this type of practice put to any public test. The only documented case dates back to 1999, when Australian program 60 Minutes followed one of the main proponents of breatharianism, Ellen Grave (better known as Jasmuheen), for a week.
After only one day, she started to show signs of dehydration. Jasmuheen then said she felt “disturbed by pollution.” She was moved to a mountainous region, where dehydration worsened; she started to have problems speaking and was losing weight. On the fourth day, the program was interrupted at the request of doctors who feared kidney damage or worse.
How can anyone believe something so absurd? The spokespersons of the movement, such as Jasmuheen, actually lie. They feed in secret or drink juices or eat chocolate, vegetarian food, or fruit and are convinced that there is nothing wrong with that. They justify themselves by thinking that some exceptions to the regimen are harmless—more for fun than for necessity. In reality, if they stop making such exceptions, they would die within a few days, like everybody else.
The news media often make things worse. In Italy, for example, a TV show titled Openspace was perhaps the first to give visibility to this practice in 2015. The Turin edition of Corriere della Sera online, published April 11, 2018, reported on two Turin women who claimed to feed on nothing but “energy.” This was in fact a hoax. Overwhelmed by the controversy, the newspaper immediately withdrew the article out of fear that it could be taken seriously by gullible people.
It is precisely those who experience psychological or emotional fragility who can easily fall prey to those promising simple solutions to minor or nonexistent health problems (such as unneeded “detoxing” or “reprogramming”). This happened with another resident of Turin, a sixty-two-year-old French pensioner, Alain René Francois Fourrè, who, convinced that he could live for weeks without eating, died of malnutrition.