“Breatharianism� is the belief (and alleged practice) that with the right discipline and technique - a human body can live indefinitely without any food or water, and that it can sustain itself just fine through other unexplored means; like absorbed energy from sunlight, and nutrients from the air (or by other spiritual means related to Hinduism). “Inedia� is the original concept that Breatharianism comes from, stemming from the practice by eastern ascetics to fast and be nourished by the Hindu life force “prana� only. Many believers in Breatharianism spout un-confirmable claims that there have existed ancient adepts and yogis who have been living on air and light for millennia. Some pure-food enthusiasts see Breatharianism as the pinnacle of enlightenment, with the path leading from vegetarianism, to veganism and “frutarianism� (the belief that vegetable plants have feelings), up to a raw food diets, and then water only and then nothing but air and sunlight. Breatharians believe that they can turn their bodies into “photovoltaic cells� that convert the rays of the sun into nutritional energy. The intriguing practice has produced many modern celebrity Breatharian “gurus� throughout the later 20th century and beyond, all who publish books, conduct seminars, have established institutes and share a controversial and sometimes criminal image. Bretharianism is regarded by most as, at best, nothing more than parlor trick kookery with scam-tendencies, and at worst a practice that can kill the naive and willing who attempt it (of which there are quite a few documented cases).

Ellen Greve (a.k.a. Jasmuheen) of Australia is a prominent Breatharian who wrote the book Living on Light: A Source of Nutrition for the New Millennium. She also runs the Cosmic Internet Academy, and conducts $2,000-per-head seminars which teach a quick, 21-day program that will allow the body to stop aging and attain immortality by living solely on light. Although Greve claims she has not eaten since 1993, she says that she consumes the occasional herbal tea, and sometimes puts chocolate or cheesecake in her mouth and swishes it around to achieve a “taste orgasm� when she’s bored. She claims her diet has changed her chromosomes and she now has 12 strands of DNA rather than the usual two (she has refused a blood test). The Australian press has noted that Greve’s home is filled with opened containers of food, but she claims that the perishables are for her husband. She also claims that world starvation would be “no problem� if the population could only be “reprogrammed,� and she says that people have starved to death only because they have been “tricked� by the media into thinking they need food to live. Several of Greve’s followers have starved to death while following her practices. In 1999 the Australian 60 Minutes TV show monitored Greve closely to observe her theories at work. The documentary-style test failed, as the show collapsed in various “fresh air mishaps� and threatened litigation, when a doctor monitoring Greve noted her rapidly deteriorating condition and made the network realize they would be held responsible if she died.

The Breatharian Institute of America has been around since some time in the 1970’s, and was founded by Wiley Brooks, who claims to be a long-time practitioner of Breatarianism. Brooks first came to national attention when he appeared on the TV show That’s Incredible! in 1981. Brooks has been quoted as saying “If food is so good for you, how come the body keeps trying to get rid of it?…Man was not designed to be a garbage can.� In 1983, Brooks was discovered in a hotel eating a chicken pot pie by some of his followers, and has been reportedly seen leaving 7-Eleven stores with jumbo hot dogs, potato chips and cherry Slurpees. Brooks has consoled his disillusioned followers by explaining that Breatharians have good and bad days, and that the lifestyle is a process that relies on day to day experience, blaming the chicken pot pie snafu on bad air quality he was forced to live with. Brooks has also claimed that he needs to consume junk food from time to time for “balance.� Through his institute, Brooks is currently holding a 5-day “Ascension Initiation� workshop for 5 pre-approved billionaires only, at the price of $1,000,000 per head, with no preliminary questions allowed and no refunds.

Not all who claim to be Breatharians lead dubious public lives. But the deaths continue to be documented, and real research into the practice always falls by the wayside. Medical researchers conclude study of the practice to be pointless, and real attempts to monitor those who claim to have achieved the ability to exist only on air and light always suspiciously fall apart.

Anorexia and bulimia seem to be inbread cousins to the concept of Breatharianism, in which the conditions of obsession over food intake and distorted physical image become oddly inverted. But it shares with those conditions the reliance on the just-out-of-reach attainment of a fantastic, higher plane of existence, through martyred sacrifice and challenging determination, which fuel a warped kind of self confidence.

While the practices that lead to Breatharianism; vegetarianism in it’s many forms, raw food-only diets, even liquid diets and long-term fasting, can be practical and beneficial when properly maintained - the practice of Bretharianism remains at the teetering, romantic edge of thrill-seeking, exploratory fantasy.