[Wellness] Fad Diets for the Thoughtful 4: Breatharianism
My table of comparisons between the diets discussed in this series, comparing how easy/doable it is to get your daily nutrients from each diet, using vegetarianism and macrobiotic as baselines for comparisons, click to enlarge:
This last diet isn’t really for the thoughtful, I just thought you might want to know, from a well-researched article, what this breatharianism and ineida thingy is, because the prevailing attitude in science is that the problems with this diet are obvious, but maybe they aren’t.
It’s what it sounds like. You breathe air. You don’t eat. You don’t drink. Some more liberal interpretations claim small sips of water are acceptable. The earliest reference (outside the hypothetical discussion by Viktoras Kulvinskas of what would later become known as breatharianism) I could find was a 1981 interview of Wiley Brooks on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Smith (video is linked in the references).
Pros: You save a lot of money on groceries during the brief period of time before you die.
Cons: As a response to criticisms from scientific communities, advocates now claim we live from some kind of invisible energy that sustains all life, called “prana” by Jasmuheen, lifted from a Hindu concept (because if it’s got Indian or Eastern religious roots, it sounds more legitimate to Westerners, because India is the seat of religious miracles) – but as you can see from the 1981 video, Wiley Brooks was claiming that the energy itself was in the air. Others claim it comes from staring at the sun, and that they photosynthesize from it… like plants (we don’t have any cells with chlorophyll or chloroplasts in, so we sadly can’t photosynthesize like plants do, even those of us with green eyes). People get confused because of the myth that Vitamin D is synthesized in our bodies by the sun. Read my article The Mystery of Vitamin D for more details about how we really get vitamin D (clue, it doesn’t come from magic sun energy).
As with juicearianism, the people advocating it blame the followers’ “lack of faith” if they fail, a logical fallacy that, during the research for this series, I’ve nicknamed the Vader Gambit (after the well-known Darth Vader quote: “I find your lack of faith disturbing”). Obviously it’s unprovable, and it also shows you how little these cult leaders care for their followers.
Proponents of breatharianism such as Jasmuheen, Wiley Brooks, Hira Ratan Manek etc, have never been proven by any kind of unbiased source to be living without food or drink. There’s a significant overlap between breatharianism and juicearianism – with both groups claiming that we don’t need solid food to live. Clearly, our digestive systems are some sort of red herring, installed in our bodies to test us. As a side note, the Breatharian Institute of California’s council resigned when Wiley Brooks was shown to be eating at McDonalds – something he now advocates as part of his breatharianism, although Brooks says breatharians can only eat the Double Quarter Pounder meal with Diet Coke (this is directly from his website).
The trouble is, I can see how they snare people, when people read enough about breatharianism. On one hand, I clearly know it’s too stupid to remotely work, but on the other hand, I can see exactly how it has gained any kind of following: They get you in through the door with claims of spiritual one-ness and transformation into a higher being, which is clearly better than the simple weight loss and undefinable “detox” offered by juicearians, then by the time you might actually realise you’ve been duped, malnutrition and dehydration effects are doing the work for them by clouding your mind to the scientific fact that you need to drink and eat to live.
A lot of people in various forums are confused as to why the deaths from breatharianism are not malnutrition-related, rather they are all from dehydration. I refer you to middle school science lessons – a person can survive for 4-5 days without water, 4-5 weeks without food. When you don’t drink anything, you dehydrate. We are 70% water, it’s used to make all our cells function properly, we really really need water, that’s why so many people die in deserts. The nutrients we get from food take much longer to become deficient – that’s why people on the juicearian diet can claim to manage over a month without solid food. There was one breatharian who managed 47 days, but bear in mind she was drinking water and you can see she was slowly starving to death from the before and after pictures, and even the tiny muscles that kept her eyes in the same direction had atrophied. I wondered if she managed a world record, so I did some digging – she was close, but no cigar.
The longest anyone has survived without food (while still drinking water) was 68 days, and that was the UK Animal Rights Activist Barry Horne, who went on hunger strike for 68 days whilst in prison, the result of his strike was that vivisection was banned in the UK. The repeated strikes he undertook didn’t exactly make him healthy, and he died in 2001 whilst on his final hunger strike, from liver failure as a complication of so many extended hunger strikes. Some breatharians claim people like Horne want to die. I disagree – he had found a tool of manipulation which made people do what he wanted for a cause he believed in, and I think he just didn’t know it would eventually kill him.
When you don’t eat for long enough, the body starts to burn muscle. The heart is a muscle, which is why the primary cause of death in anorexia is heart failure. Then the organs start shutting down, so liver failure is a second top cause of death in anorexia. A lot of websites mention that there are four confirmed deaths from breatharianism, but most only talk about Verity Linn and the unnamed Swiss woman who died in 2012. After some heavy digging, I found that the other two were called Timo Degen, a kindergarten teacher from Germany who died in 1997, and Lani Marcia Roslyn Morris, who was ensnared by some breatharians (Jim and Eugenia Pensak, who will be out of jail by now) while she was in a vulnerable state, and they convinced her that breatharianism was the answer to her problems. After 7 days without food or water, she became paralysed down one side, vomiting a black tarry substance before dying. Jim claimed he didn’t call a doctor because he thought it was side effects of the healing process. Lani Morris died in 1998, the Pensaks were convicted of manslaughter in 1999, and they have probably changed their names to something else now they’re out of jail and free to do the same thing again. I wonder if they ate food in jail, I bet they did, because only a complete phoney would pass up such a perfect opportunity to prove once and for all to the world that their diet was real, in a place where outsiders such as prison wardens could actually confirm if they were eating or not.
The long term consequences of chronic malnutrition and chronic dehydration caused by only sipping water are varied and depend on your health when you started. Bones will soften due to lack of calcium, loss of nerve function, sanity loss and depression will all be due to B vitamins. The hair will fall out, nails will become brittle and skin will become dry and flaky due to lack of protein, Vitamin E, D and K. Major organ function will be impaired due to lack of water and glucose (3 litres of water a day are needed for optimum function, not a few sips). And while its happening, it is well documented that people see things or have “religious” experiences due to dehydration and starvation – think of the amount of people who see mirages when they’re lost in the desert, and the mirages are always false, and based on what they want to see, leading to self doubt and desolation when they get to the mirage and find it to only be sand.
If you’ve got a large amount of money and want to lose weight, instead of buying a $100 juicemaker or going to a $500 breatharian conference, try hiring a personal trainer, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
Here’s the poor people who died carrying out ineida/breatharianism: