Crazy Beliefs: Breatharianism

There are plenty of folks who embrace truly bizarre ideas, but some of these concepts are just so decoupled from reality you just cannot grasp how such a belief was ever embraced as a good idea by anybody at all.

One example of this is Breatharianism. This is where individuals believe that they do not require any food or water and seriously think that they can survive and thrive using alternatives such as prana or just light.  OK, a key point, you know this is not going to catch on in a big way right? If you stop eating and drinking you die. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are the body’s only observed sources of energy, so when you stop eating you burn your own reserves of glycogen, body fat, and muscle, and if you continue to not eat or drink then that leads to starvation, dehydration, and eventual death.  “Ah”, say the breatherians, “That does not apply to us“.

Really!, has this ever been verified? (Oh come on now, I don’t need to tell you the answer to that).

There are of course lots of claims, and so skeptics have been (quite rightly) more than a tad skeptical as they investigate. For example, the Indian Rationalist Association have looked into various cases and found them to all be frauds … no exceptions.

Prahlad Jani

Prahlad Jani claims he has lived for 70 years without eating or drinking. He was tested by being put in a hospital room and monitored for 15 days in India. At the end the doctors claimed he was “truly astonishing“. Oh but wait (you knew this was coming … right?)  Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association asked to be allowed to send an independent team to survey the room where this supposed test was taking place, but was repeatedly turned down. Apparently the chap running the test, a Dr Shah, is a believer in this stuff, and has been in charge of three similar investigations over the past ten years, but has never allowed independent verification, so it is not a fair test at all. He uses this to simply raise funds for further tests … yep, it stinks of a scam and fraud.

When the Indian Rationalist Association are permitted to investigate, some rather interesting facts usually turn up. For example …

In 1999, they investigated a woman who claimed that she was the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess. For five years, she had remained alone in a small closet where it was claimed she had not eaten nor passed any urine or faeces.

In co-operation with the police, investigators from the association searched the room, finding a toilet hidden behind a shelf and a disguised hole through which she received food. Blood tests revealed the presence of glucose, indicating the intake of food.

To further prove the case, a gas was released into the room that made the woman vomit. The contents of her stomach were found to include pieces of recently-eaten chapatti and potatoes.

Now, apart from the “she was proven to be a fake” observation, I confess I am indeed rather intrigued to learn that the skeptics were allowed to gas her.


Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was a rather famous 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.” In reply, those interviewing her pointed out that her kitchen was stocked with food. In response, she simply explained that it was  food that was for her husband (yea right).

She was tested on Australian TV. The deal was that they would monitor her for 1 week. Four days into the test, she was in trouble, and if she had continued, she risked total kidney failure.

She did however receive recognition for this, she was awarded the bent spoon award (if you are wondering what that name is all about, then think “Uri Geller”) in 2000, by the Australian skeptics.  (That’s an award given to … “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle“)

Why the Criticism, what possible harm can any of this really do?

You might indeed wonder why we should criticize such obvious nuts, they are either frauds or are simply self-deluded, but what possible harm can any of this do? Well, it is important when faced with bullshit to label it correctly least others take it seriously and come to harm.

Humans are at times quite gullible and if some make unchallenged claims, then others will seriously consider the claim and perhaps even follow it through and end up dead. This is not theory, but rather a very tragic and truly sad fact.

We have in the news yesterday the story of a swiss woman who embraced this Breatharianism idea and as a result is now dead …

Anna Gut (not her real name) was in her early fifties when she saw the film, “In the beginning there was light,” a documentary in which two men claim to survive entirely on light, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

The film, which ran in Swiss cinemas in 2010, portrayed two men, 62-year-old Swiss Michael Werner, an anthroposophist with a doctorate in chemistry, and 83-year-old Indian yogi Prahlad Jani. Both men claimed to derive sustenance from spiritual means rather than the intake of food.

Werner claims he has lived this way since 2001, while Jani says he has lived for 70 years not only without food but also without water.

Anna Gut started her long preparations for the process by reading a book by another proponent of “breatharianism”, 54-year-old Australian Ellen Greve, who also goes by the name Jasmuheen, or eternal air.

Anna Gut followed the instructions for the first stage to the letter: she had no food or drink for a week, and even spat her saliva out. For weeks two and three, she resumed drinking again, but she visibly weakened and her children became concerned.

She calmed them and promised she would stop should the situation ever become critical. But one day last winter, when she failed to answer the phone, the children broke down the door to find their mother dead inside.

The autopsy showed simply that she had died of starvation, ruling out any other contribution to the cause of death.

She is not the first to be fatally fooled by such nonsense, in 1997, 31-year-old Timo Degen from Munich died from circulatory collapse during an attempt to live on light alone. A 53-year-old New Zealander, Lani Morris, also died from a stroke caused by fluid loss in 1998, and in 1999, Verity Linn, an Australian was found emaciated in a lake in Scotland having tried to follow light nourishment practices

Lets finish with a quick statistical summary to drive the key point home…

  • Number of individuals who have been scientifically verified as living on just air – zero
  • Number of folks who have died because they believed this was possible – tragically not zero.

Remember, it is important to be critical of such claims, because as illustrated by the news yesterday without a voice of reason, people die,

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