Inedia (Latin: "fasting") is the alleged ability to live without food. The word was first used to describe a fast-based lifestyle within Catholic tradition, which holds that certain saints were able to survive for extended periods of time without food or drink other than the Eucharist.
Breatharianism is a related concept, in which believers claim food and possibly water are not necessary, and that humans can be sustained solely by prana (the vital life force in Hinduism), or, according to some, by the energy in sunlight (according to Ayurveda, sunlight is one of the main sources of prana). The terms breatharianism or inedia may also refer to this philosophy practised as a lifestyle in place of the usual diet.
Nutritional science indicates that fasting for extended periods leads to starvation, dehydration, and eventual death. In the absence of calorie intake, the body normally burns its own reserves of glycogen, body fat, and muscle. Breatharians claim that their bodies do not consume these reserves while fasting.
Few breatharians have submitted themselves to medical testing; of those that have, including a hospital's observation of an Indian mystic Prahlad Jani surviving without food or water for 15 days, none have undergone peer review with results independently reproduced. In a handful of documented cases, individuals attempting breatharian fasting have died, and among the claims investigated by the Indian Rationalist Association, all were found to be fraudulent.
Ram Bahadur Bomjon
Ram Bahadur Bomjon is a young Nepalese Buddhist monk who lives as an ascetic in a remote area of Nepal. Ram Bahadur Bomzan appears to go for periods of time without ingesting either food or water. One such period was chronicled by the Discovery Channel, in which, during 96 hours of filming, he neither moved, nor ate or drank anything.
Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was a prominent advocate of breatharianism in 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." Interviewers found her house stocked with food; Jasmuheen claimed the food was for her husband. In 1999, she volunteered to be monitored closely by the Australian television program 60 Minutes for one week without eating to demonstrate her methods. Jasmuheen stated that she failed on the first day of the test because the hotel room in which she was confined was located near a busy road, causing stress and pollution that prevented absorption of required nutrients from the air. "I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe," she said. The third day the test was moved to a mountainside retreat. After Jasmuheen 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 Dr. Wink, Jasmuheen’s pupils were dilated, her speech was slow, and she was "quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%". Towards the end of the test, she said, "Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risks if she goes any further are kidney failure. 60 Minutes would be culpable if they encouraged her to continue. She should stop now". The test was stopped. Dr. Wink said, "Unfortunately there are a few people who may believe what she says, and I'm sure it's only a few, but I think it's quite irresponsible for somebody to be trying to encourage others to do something that is so detrimental to their health". Jasmuheen challenged the results of the program, saying, "Look, 6,000 people have done this around the world without any problem." Though she claims thousands of followers, mostly in Germany, there has been no verification that any have lived for extended periods without food.
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"). She also won the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature for Living on Light. Jasmuheen claims that their beliefs are based on the writings and "more recent channelled material" from St. Germain. She stated that her DNA has expanded from 2 to 12 strands, to "absorb more hydrogen". When offered $30,000 to prove her claim with a blood test, she said that she didn't understand the relevance.
Deaths of Jasmuheen's followers
The deaths of 49-year-old Australian-born Scotland resident Verity Linn, 31-year-old Munich preschool teacher Timo Degen, and 53-year-old Melbourne resident Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris while attempting the breatharian "diet" advocated by Jasmuheen have elicited criticism. Jim Vadim Pesnak, 63, and his wife Eugenia, 60, went to jail for six and two years, respectively, on charges of manslaughter for their involvement in the death of Morris, when Pesnak delayed seeking medical attention. Jasmuheen claimed that Linn's death had a psycho-spiritual, rather than physiological, source. (Linn was nominated for a Darwin Award, but did not win.)
Jasmuheen has denied any involvement with the three deaths and claims she cannot be held responsible for the actions of her followers. In reference to the death of Lani Morris, she said that perhaps Morris was "not coming from a place of integrity and did not have the right motivation".
In 2007, a pregnant woman in Hungary died of malnutrition while following a "lighteater" fast forced on the family by her husband, who was later remanded to a mental institution. The couple's two young children were also in dire straits when they were found.
In 2012 it was reported that a Swiss woman died of starvation after having attempted to survive on light alone, based on one of Jasmuheen's books.
Wiley Brooks is founder of the Breatharian Institute of America. He was first introduced to the public in 1980 when appearing on the TV show That's Incredible!. Brooks stopped teaching recently to "devote 100% of his time on solving the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely." Brooks claims to have found "four major deterrents" which prevented him from living without food: "people pollution", "food pollution", "air pollution" and "electro pollution".
In 1983 he was reportedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies. He told Colors magazine in 2003 that he periodically breaks his fasting with a cheeseburger and a cola, explaining that when he's surrounded by junk culture and junk food, consuming them adds balance.
On his website, Brooks states that his potential followers must first prepare by combining the junk food diet with the meditative incantation of five magic "fifth-dimensional" words which appear on his website, some of which are words from Kundalini yoga. In the "5D Q&A" section of his website Brooks claims that cows are fifth-dimensional (or higher) beings that help mankind achieve fifth-dimensional status by converting three-dimensional food to five-dimensional food (beef). In the "Question and Answer" section of his website, Brooks explains that the "Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese" meal from McDonald's possesses a special "base frequency" and that he thus recommends it as occasional food for beginning breatharians. He then goes on to reveal that Diet Coke is "liquid light". Prospective disciples are asked after some time following the junk food/magic word preparation to revisit his website in order to test if they can feel the magic.
Brooks states that he may be contacted on his fifth-dimensional phone in order to get the correct pronunciation of the five magic words. In case the line is busy, prospective recruits are asked to meditate on the five magic words for a few minutes, and then try calling again.
Brooks's institute has charged varying fees to prospective clients who wished to learn how to live without food, which have ranged from US$100,000 with an initial deposit of $10,000 to one billion dollars, to be paid via bank wire transfer with a preliminary deposit of $100,000, for a session called "Immortality workshop". A payment plan was also offered. These charges have typically been presented as limited time offers exclusively for billionaires.
Hira Ratan Manek
Hira Ratan Manek (born 12 September 1937) claims that since 18 June 1995, he has lived on water, and, occasionally, tea, coffee, and buttermilk. Manek states that Sungazing is the key to his health, citing the Jainist Tirthankara Mahavira, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans as his inspiration.
According to his website, three extended periods of his fasting have been observed under control of scientific and medical teams, the first lasting 211 days in 1995–96, in Calicut, India, under the direction of Dr C. K. Ramachandran. During that period he is reported to have lost 41 kg.
The second study lasted 411 days in 2000–2001, in Ahmedabad, India, under the direction of a 21 member team of medical doctors and scientists led by doctors Sudhir Shah and K. K. Shah, a past President of the Indian Medical Association and current Chairman of the Jainist Doctors' Federation (the latter group aims to "Promote scientific research and medical education based on principles of Jainism"). Dr K. K. Shah said "Fasting is a method of curing the meditation of mind and body which has been proved by great jain monks, sanyasis and munis of ancient times. There is a need to propagate these methods during this age of increasing diseases of the body and mind due to over consumptions and increasing with fasting would help maintain perfection.". Dr Sudhir Shah was also involved in the study of Prahlad Jani.
The paper published by Dr Sudhir Shah makes it clear that dozens of people had access to Hira Ratan Manek during the study and he went on at least one excursion: "Most surprisingly, he had himself climbed the famous Shatrunjay mountain (Palitana hill) on 4.4.01, on 401st day of his legendary fasting along with 500 fellowmen without anybody’s help, within 1.5 Hrs. only". The paper reports that the subject lost 19 kg of weight during the study period. Neither the experiment, as described in the paper, nor the paper itself have been validated by any other reputable, peer-reviewed scientific or medical journal.
A third study allegedly lasted for 130 days in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Pennsylvania under the direction of Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. George C. Brainard. Dr Sudhir Shah, who led the previous study, acted as an advisor and consultant to the USA team. However, Dr. Andrew Newberg said that Hira stayed at the University of Pennsylvania only for brain scans on studies of meditation, not his ability to fast indefinitely.
In the documentary "Eat the Sun" (2011-Peter Sorcher), he was caught on camera eating a big meal in a restaurant on 500 Haight Street, San Francisco, U.S.A.
Prahlad Jani ("Mataji")
Prahlad Jani is an Indian 83 year old sadhu who has claimed to have lived without food and water for the last 72 years. His ability to live without food and water was investigated by doctors at Sterling Hospital, Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 2003 and 2010. The research team reported that he did not consume any food or water during the testing periods, although they could not comment on his claim of having been able to survive in this way for about 70 years. The study concluded that Prahlad Jani was able to survive under observation for two weeks without either food or water, and had passed no urine or stool, with no need for dialysis.
Interviews with the researchers speak of strict observation and relate that round-the-clock observation was ensured by multiple CCTV cameras. Jani was reportedly subjected to multiple medical tests. Jani's only contact with any form of fluid was during gargling and bathing, and the doctors said they measured the fluid that Jani spat out.
The case has attracted criticism, both after 2003 tests and after the recent 2010 tests. Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, criticized the 2010 experiment for allowing Jani to move out of a certain CCTV camera's field of view, meet devotees and leave the sealed test room to sunbathe. Edamaruku stated that the regular gargling and bathing activities were not sufficiently monitored, and accused Jani of having had some "influential protectors" who denied Edamaruku permission to inspect the project during its operation.
Some Christians, such as Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, also have traditions of fasting, in which saints, as well as Jesus, are claimed to have been able to go for a period of time (without any food, or with no food but the Eucharist). Such saints include:
- Alpais of Cudot
- Catherine of Siena
- Elisabeth the Good
- Helen Enselmini
- Lydwina of Schiedam
- Louise Lateau
- Mariana de Jesús de Paredes (Mary Ann de Paredes)
- Marthe Robin (allegedly 53 years)
- Nicholas of Flue (According to legend, he survived for nineteen years with no food except for the Eucharist.)
- Pio of Pietrelcina
- Therese Neumann
- Alexandrina Maria da Costa
- Mary of Egypt
- Theoctiste of Lesbos
- Ram Bahadur Bomjon (Buddha Boy)
Hindu religious texts contain account of saints and hermits practicing what would be called inedia, breatharianism or Sustenance through Light in modern terms. In Valmiki's Ramayana, Book III, Canto VI, an account of anchorites and holy men is given, who flocked around Rama when he came to Śarabhanga's hermitage. These included, among others, the "...saints who live on rays which moon and daystar give" and "those ... whose food the wave of air supplies". In Canto XI of the same book a hermit named Māṇḍakarṇi is mentioned: "For he, great votarist, intent -- On strictest rule his stern life spent -- ... -- Ten thousand years on air he fed..." (English quotations are from Ralph T. H. Griffith's translation).
There are claims that Devraha Baba lived without food.
- Chi Song Zi (赤松子)
- Henri Monfort
In popular culture
In 1977, Jay Kinney drew an underground comics strip in which the breatharians take over. Also in the comic, McDonald’s and all other restaurants all have scratch and sniff menus, with no actual food.
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- In the Beginning There Was Light, a 2010 documentary
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- A list of historical and contemporary breatharians
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- Skeptic's Dictionary article on Breatharianism
- Past Breatharian hoaxes in India
- Professor claims to survive on just sunshine and fruit juice