• Rose Smith

Breatharianism: A Worryingly Stubborn and Dangerous Trend

Photo Source: PxFuel

Food is a staple of life. We use it to preserve culture and history, entertain, and, most importantly, nourish our bodies. This may seem like a well-worn truism, but there has been a group of people who self-style themselves as breatharians, those who claim to have sworn off food or water and live only on air and light. While this movement is not necessarily new, it has been rekindled over the last couple years to dangerous ends.

Breatharianism as a philosophy had arisen first in the 1970s, its main roots and tenants would be popularized in the 1990s with Australian woman Jasmuheen, aka Ellen Greve (GQ). Capitalizing on the New Age movement, she claimed that she had not eaten in five years, save for the occasional chocolate biscuit (The Independent). Instead she claimed to live off of Pranic (or life force) energies in the light. She made money off of books and talks that endorsed getting rid of eating altogether through a 21-day fast process. In a famous Australian 60 Minutes episode, Jasmuheen was challenged to practice what she preached by challenging her to go without food or water for seven days under supervision. There was a doctor on-site to constantly monitor her vitals. Not far into the experiment, Jasmuheen was already experiencing the symptoms of dehydration and starvation, including weight loss and slowed speech. The doctor recommended to halt the experiment after four days. Jasmuheen claimed that this was due to the air pollution around the place she was staying, so the 60 Minutes team moved her to a mountain retreat. The doctors still prematurely halted the experiment because Jasmuheen was cautioned that she would suffer permanent kidney damage due to dehydration. The experiment was completely stopped at that point and did a number on Jasmuheen’s reputation.

It may seem obvious to most, but it should be reiterated that humans cannot survive on light and energy alone. Even though fasting is an important part of some religions’ spiritual practices, it doesn’t come close to what breatharianism promotes. As you cease to eat, your body starts to scramble to find other ways to keep your glucose levels. It starts out by burning the chemical glycogen, then moves on to proteins and fats (How Stuff Works). Then, the person dies of a chemical imbalance referred to as ketoacidosis. However, when cutting food and water, dehydration will likely be what kills you first. Your body loses water through urine and sweat, and if there is not enough water to replenish your system, toxins begin to build up in the blood. Eventually, your organs begin to fail, starting with your kidneys.

Breatharianism is an extremely dangerous doctrine, and there has been real and permanent consequences to people who try to follow it. It’s not hard to find stories of people who have attempted to follow breatharianism and lost their lives in the process. In one example, in the nineties, a woman named Verity Linn was found dead in the Scottish mountains, completely emaciated. In her belongings was Jasmuheen’s book and a diary revealing that Verity had set out to follow the 21 day fast as detailed in that book. Despite the past fatalities, contemporary breatharians still exist. While they have distanced themselves from their disgraced predecessors, these people profit off endorsing breatharianism through teaching courses and leading extremely expensive spiritual retreats. Regrettably, Breatharianism is still alive and well, and it is still taking advantage of vulnerable people who are looking for physical and spiritual wellbeing. One can only hope that these people can take care of themselves before something dangerous or deadly happens.