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Inedia is the alleged ability to live without food. 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. The terms breatharianism or inedia may also refer to this philosophy practiced as a lifestyle in place of the usual diet.

While it is often seen as an esoteric practice performed by eastern ascetics, with no basis in scientific fact, some groups and individuals promote the practice as a skill which anybody can learn through specific techniques, sometimes only after paying large fees, as in the case of the "Breatharian Institute of America".[1]

The word "inedia" simply means "fasting" in Latin, and 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.


Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was probably the most famous advocate of breatharianism during 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."[2] Several interviewers found her house full of food, but she 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.[3][4] 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, saying that the stress and pollution kept her from getting the nutrients she needed from the air. "I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe," she said. On the third day the test moved to a mountainside retreat where she could get plenty of fresh air and live happily. After Greve had fasted for four days, Dr. Beres Wenck, 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 "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".[5] She challenged the results of the program, saying, "Look, 6,000 people have done this around the world without any problem."[6] Though she claims thousands of followers,[7][8] mostly in Germany,[9] there is no evidence that any have lived for long periods of time without any food at all.

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").[10] 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" of the Count of St Germain.[11] She claims 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.[12]


The well-publicized deaths of 49-year-old Australian-born Scotland resident Verity Linn, 31-year-old Munich kindergarten teacher Timo Degen, and 53-year-old Melbourne resident Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris, while attempting to enter the breatharian "diet", have drawn further criticism of the idea.[13][14] Jim Vadim Pesnak, 63, and his wife Eugenia, 60, went to jail for three years on charges of manslaughter for their involvement in the death of Morris. Verity Lynn, the Scottish woman who inadvertently killed herself by choosing the breatharian "diet" was a nominee for the 1999 Darwin Awards. She "took to the highlands", the article says, "with only a tent and her grit and determination". She died of hypothermia and dehydration, aggravated by lack of food. Jasmuheen claimed that her death was brought on by a psycho-spiritual problem, rather than a physiological one.

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".[14]

Wiley Brooks

Wiley Brooks is a purported breatharian, and founder of the "Breatharian Institute of America". He was first introduced to the public in 1980, when he appeared on the TV show That's Incredible!.[15] Wiley has stopped teaching in recent years, so he can "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."[16] Wiley Brooks believes that he has found "four major deterrents" which prevented him from living without food: "people pollution", "food pollution", "air pollution" and "electro pollution".[16] In 1983 he was allegedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies.[17]

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.[18] On his website, Brooks explains that his future 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.[19][20] In the "5D Q&A" section of his website Brookes explains that cows are fifth-dimensional beings or higher that help mankind achieve fifth-dimensional status by converting three-dimensional food to five-dimensional food (beef) while in the "Holy Cows" section of the website a picture of cows with glowing eyes is provided so that the readers can sense the energy of the picture.[21] 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.[22] He then goes on to reveal that the secret of Diet Coke is "liquid light".[22] Prospective disciples are asked after some time on this junk food/magic word preparation to revisit his website in order to test if they can feel the magic.[20]

He further mentions that those interested can call him on his fifth-dimensional phone number in order to get the correct pronunciation of the five magic words.[20] 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;[20] he does not explain how anyone can meditate with words they cannot yet pronounce. Brooks's "institute", in the past, charged varying fees to prospective clients who wished to learn how to live without food, which ranged from US$15 million to US$25 million. A payment plan was also offered.[23] These charges have historically been presented as limited time offers exclusively for billionaires.[24][25] New lower fees have been set to US$100,000 with an initial deposit of US$10,000.[1]

Hira Ratan Manek

Hira Ratan Manek (born September 12, 1937) claims that since June 18, 1995, he has lived exclusively on water, and occasional tea, coffee, and buttermilk. He says sunlight 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.[26]

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 Dr Sudhir Shah and Dr 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".[27] 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 overconsumptions and increasing with fasting would help maintain perfection.".[26] Dr Sudhir Shah was also involved in the study of Prahlad Jani.[28]

The paper[29] 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 well-known 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. Following that statement, Newberg denied ever undertaking the 130-day study.

Prahlad Jani

Prahlad Jani, a sadhu, spent ten days under strict observation by physicians in Ahmedabad, India, in 2003. The study was led by Dr Sudhir Shah, the same doctor who led the study of Hira Ratan Manek. Reportedly, during the observation, he was given only 100 millilitres of water a day to use as mouthwash, which was collected and measured after he used it, to make sure he hadn't consumed any. Throughout the observation, he passed no urine or stool, but doctors say urine appeared to form in the bladder, only to be reabsorbed.[30] However, despite Jani's claim to have gone without food for decades, Jani was not engaged in strenuous exercise during the ten-day trial, and longer trials were not recorded under similarly strict observation. Further, his weight did drop slightly during the 10 days, casting some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food. Jani claims a goddess sustains him through amrit that filters down through a hole in his palate.[30] The Indian Rationalist Association labels him a "village fraud".[31]

On June 26, 2006, The Discovery Channel aired a documentary called "The Boy with Divine Powers" featuring a 5 minute interview with Prahlad Jani and Dr. Sudhir Shah.

Religious traditions of inedia

Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism also has traditions of inedia, in which saints, as well as Jesus, are claimed to have been able to go for months or years without any food (or with no food but Communion).[32] Such saints include:


Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi details two alleged historical examples of breatharianism, Giri Bala and Therese Neumann.

Scientific criticism

Scientific theories about nutrition and common sense both indicate that a person who follows this practice even in the short term would die of starvation or dehydration. Nutritionists say that carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are the body's only sources of energy.[33][34][35] Even when the body is fasting, it burns carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy, and they come from the body's own reserves. A breatharian would first burn glycogen (a carbohydrate) and then body fat and muscle (a source of protein).[36]

Breatharians have seldom submitted themselves to medical testing, and currently there is no evidence to support their claims. In a handful of documented cases, individuals attempting breatharian fasting have died.[13][14]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Wiley Brooks website: Initiation workshops". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  2. "Breatharianism at". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  3. "Living on air: Breatharian put to the test". Archived from the original on 2005-11-02. 
  4. "Jasmuheen". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  5. "Fresh-air dietician fails TV show's challenge". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  6. "Apologetics research resources on religious cults and sects — Religion Items in the News — October 28, 1999 (Vol. 3, Issue 128)". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  7. "Starvation guru given hostile reception". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  8. "Mysticism". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  9. "Face behind food-free teaching". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  10. "Bent Spoon 2000 - Winner (Jasmuheen)". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  11. "All they need is the air". 1999-09-22. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  12. "Correx Archives — Jasmuheen". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "UK: Scotland Woman 'starved herself to death'". BBC. 1999-09-21. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Tom Walker, Judith O'Reilly (1999-09-26). "Three deaths linked to 'living on air' cult". Sunday Times (London). 
  15. Broom, Jack (1993-10-05). "Living On Light, Air -- 'Breatharian' Says Food Is Poison But Pops An Occasional Twinkie". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Wiley Brooks website through Internet Archive". 2006-02-11. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  17. "MetroActive News & Issues". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  18. "sonoma papers". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  19. Five magic words download (MS Word document)
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Wiley Brooks website: Five magic words". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  21. Q and A five magic words
    Holy cows section
    Picture of cows with glowing eyes</br>
  22. 22.0 22.1 "5 magic words Q&A". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  23. "Initiation workshops from the Internet Archive". 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  24. "Fees via Internet archive". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  25. Initiation workshops through Internet Archive. Retrieved January 2008.
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Hira Ratan Manek". Archived from the original on 2005-03-01. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  27. "::: Aims &Amp; Objectives Of Jdf :::". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  28. "Unexplained Mysteries, Unexplained Mystery, Unexplained Mysteries. Unexplained Mysteries". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  29. "Fasting, Prolonged Fasting, Fasting, Hira Manek Prolonged Fasting Medical Report". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  30. 30.0 30.1 Rajeev Khanna (2003-11-25). "BBC NEWS". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  31. ""No food, no water for 60 years! - Indian Ministry of Defence and NASA taken in by a village fraud"". Retrieved 2009-09-22. 
  32. "Patron Saints Index: inedia". Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  33. "How to Eat Healthy. WebMD". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  34. "Test Your Weight Loss Wisdom. MedicineNet". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  35. "Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  36. "What happens to your body as a breatharian? Howstuffworks". Retrieved 2009-07-30. 

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