The Breatharian Diet: Can We Live Without Food?


Practitioners and teachers of true breatharianism do not believe in eating food or drinking water; they believe that they can survive on “prana” (the Hindu concept of energy or lifeblood) provided from solar rays, the air, and the energy around them.

Normally, you can overpay for your “healing crystals” or other new-age spirituality gimmick, realize it’s bogus a week later, and move on with your life all the wiser—that’s just capitalism for you.

Commit fully to the breatharian diet, however, and the indignity of being duped will surely be secondary to the very real prospect of death. 

Before we get to the confoundingly simple response of researchers defending the need for humans to eat, it’s only fair we give breatharianism a chance to defend itself.

Breatharianism Explained

Practitioners and teachers of true breatharianism do not believe in eating food or drinking water; they believe that they can survive on “prana” (the Hindu concept of energy or lifeblood) provided from solar rays, the air, and the energy around them.

This particular incarnation of new-age spirituality was born of a literal interpretation of sacred Hindu texts (the Vedas), in which some saints and a hermit named Mandakarni subsisted on air and solar rays alone, a practice also called “inedia.” 

While we completely respect the Hindu belief system, the way people have literally interpreted and monetized this idea is a logical and ethical departure from the Hindu text that no reasonable person can abide—especially since followers have died.

Breatharian Diet Requirements

In the most extreme cases, breatharians claim to abstain from food and water altogether.

A slightly more level-headed group of breatharian “gurus” encourage small amounts of food throughout the week, like a piece of fruit or some broth. 

Adherents are encouraged to practice meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises to increase their openness to receiving prana from the air around them.

Most gurus recommend a “tapering down” period of two to three weeks, during which adherents are coached through the transition from food using the above methods.

Though breatharianism has been around in some form or another for as long as 400 years, the modern revival was spearheaded by a number of self-proclaimed teachers in the 80s and 90s.

Prominent Breatharians 

A man named Wiley Brooks, who believed he was John the Baptist in a former life, is credited with bringing the breatharian movement back in early 1980s America.

For years, the Breatharian Institute of America founder recruited followers, held incredibly expensive workshops, and preached the importance of transcending our corporeal bodies into the next stage of evolution, which is to simply become breath.

He also believed that McDonald’s cheeseburgers were connected to the fifth dimension, and were thus okay for breatharians to eat.

Ironically, it was his being caught in public with takeout food—not these outlandish claims—that eventually saw his downfall, proving one thing right about his belief in the wheel of reincarnation: karma does indeed exist. 

Next, we have Jasmuheen, the preferred name of Ellen Greve, an Australian woman who indirectly succeeded Brooks in the early 90s with a similar message.

Greve claimed to survive on sunlight and just a bit of tea now and then, a brazen claim that the TV show 60 Minutes sought to verify.

She agreed to be sequestered in a guarded room while she fasted so that 60 Minutes could have complete oversight, but things didn’t go very well for her.

It only took a couple of days for her regularly visiting physician to call off the fast, considering Greve’s quickly deteriorating health.

Finally, high-profile breatharian couple Camila Castello and Akahi Ricardo have thus far avoided being outed as publicly as Brooks or Jasmuheen, and they continue to profit from exorbitantly priced workshops and books on breatharianism to this day.

Throughout this four-decade progression, several adherents to breatharianism have died, one of whom had a copy of Jasmuheen’s book among her possessions.

The Very Obvious Problem

To assume we know everything just might be as dangerous as the belief that one can subsist on air.

This is why it’s important to entertain this lofty claim of breatharians with an objective investigation, even if it feels as trivial as playing the repeating “why?” game with a six-year-old.

Add the strange, enticing case of Prahlad Jani, an Indian monk and breatharian who showed no physiological changes after being monitored during a fast for weeks, and an investigation seems all the more merited.

Here’s what researchers are saying about breatharianism.

Prolonged Fasting Leads to Health Decline

A case study from the University of Bern in Switzerland provides damning evidence against the claims of a follower of Jasmuheen.

Though the subject of the study claimed he had been “living on light” for two years, researchers observed several physiological changes during his closely monitored, 10-day fast, including:

  • Plasma levels of “free fatty acids” tripled
  • Weight loss of more than half a pound a day
  • Decline in exercise tolerance
  • Electrolyte imbalance due to a hormonal shift (hyperaldosteronism)

In other words, the man was lying about or at least exaggerating his prior fasting, and when he did go completely without food, his health started to quickly decline. 

Fraud or “Anomaly”?

A broader review of the evidence from an independent researcher out of Berlin assessed the validity of claims made by 38 breatharians in a search for “anomalous results”, that is, proof that this method may actually be sustainable. 

Of the 38 cases, ten were found to be outright fraudulent, and seventeen were dismissed due to study design and reporting issues, but eleven cases were found to provide “seemingly anomalous” results, i.e., evidence that the claimants were adapting to starvation.

The author came to the conclusion that, even in anomalous cases, there are still too many opportunities for bias and deception, and that more research is therefore needed to make a fair assessment.

The fact that 10 claimants lied about their fasts, however, implies people are still profiting from breatharianism. 

The Bottom Line

In light of the research, here’s the largest possible concession we can make: It appears that some people may be more adaptable to temporary starvation than others.

Going completely without food, however, is a self-imposed death sentence.

Humans need food to survive—the end.

Sane Middle Ground?

Thankfully, a more forgiving offshoot of breatharianism has begun to emerge in recent years.

Some breatharians couldn’t care less whether they or their followers eat regular food or not.

They still believe in pranic nourishment, but they don’t insist on forsaking conventional means of sustenance.
The Rigveda itself has the answer: “One should eat nutritious food and exercise regularly to have sound health. Virtuous deeds performed with intelligence shall naturally bring good wealth.”

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