In recent days, a story about a couple not eating any sort of food for nine years has gone pretty viral. For some reason, people bought it, and now we have to explain why it's absolutely absurd and "breatharianism" is utter garbage. Let's take it from the top.
I don't need food bro, the universe feeds me
Seriously, that's the core idea of a new-age belief (which in this case, as in most others, translates into dangerous pseudoscience) called breatharianism. Breatharians believe that food, and in some cases water, are not necessary for survival and that humans can be sustained solely by prana, the vital life force in Hinduism. The sun is the main source of prana, so basically -- you just live off of solar energy.
However, since last time I checked humans are not plants and they don't do photosynthesis, that just doesn't make any sense. Evey single animal needs to eat food and drink water. Sure, some eat more and some eat less, but sooner or later, everyone needs to eat. That's just a hard reality and has nothing to do with spirituality.
Take the case of a famous breatharian, Israeli Ray Maor. He was challenged to live in a small villa without any food and under constant surveillance. After eight days, he was still in good spirits (which I'll grant, is impressive), but he lost 17 lbs (7.7 kg) of weight! That makes a lot of sense since it's generally believed that the longest people can go without food is three weeks, but your body will be extremely taxed.
Another notable example is that of Australia's Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve), who claims to live only on a cup of tea and a biscuit every few days. She took a supervised test in 1999, and after four days without any food or water, she was extremely dehydrated and required medical intervention. She claimed this happened because she was near a road and had to "breathe bad air." She used the same excuse when the experiment was carried out in the middle of nowhere. That also makes sense, since the most you can live without water is around one week.
So then why are people believing that this couple made it without any food for nine years?
It all started with a British tabloid called The Sun, which in typical tabloid fashion -- high on capitalization and low on fact checking -- published the story about two people: Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello, husband and wife, who just don't eat. Here's an excerpt from that piece of journalistic gem.
A "BREATHARIAN" mum-and-dad of two have barely eaten for nine years as they live off "the universe's energy".
Husband and wife Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello believe food and water is not necessary and that humans can be sustained solely by the energy of the universe.
Camila and Akahi — who have a five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter together — have survived on little else besides a piece of fruit or vegetable broth just 3 times per week since 2008.
And Camila even practised a Breatharian PREGNANCY — not eating anything during the entire nine months that she carried her first child.
Now, if I was being kind, I'd say that the Sun is not the most respectable publication. If I was being nasty, I'd say they're a bunch of manky nut muppets who don't have the slightest respect for facts and for their audience. You can draw your line wherever you want, but this is not just The Sun doing their usual pseudojournalism thing -- the story was soon picked up by an impressive number of outlets, including Yahoo, The Sun, The New York Post, The Independent, The Daily Mail, and Metro. This is the real story -- that so many outlets covered this story, and so many people actually believed it. The Independent's story was shared approximately 37,000 times. The Daily Mail's was shared about 24,000 times.
As it turns out, the couple made up the story themselves and sold it to a content creation company called News Dog Media, who after "two long Skype interviews," purchased their story and re-sold it to outlets such as The Sun or Daily Mail. But why would the couple do it?
Well, it's win-win for them. Not only do they sell their story for a lot of money, but they also get to promote their business.
"In their eight-day programs and four-week online video courses, which cost from around $200 for a video course to more than $1,700 for an eight-day session in San Francisco, the couple claims they teach people to "increment the energy" they receive through conscious breathing techniques and other exercises," the NY post reads. That's quite a lot of money for literally nothing.
A post-truth world
This is another example of the so-called post-truth world. Truth doesn't matter. Facts don't matter. Nothing really matters, as long as it's framed in a story that people can believe. The couple later clarified their situation, saying that they do eat, just "not with the same frequency or intensity as the average person," and mostly fruits and vegetable broth. But the ship had long sailed, and the story, in its various forms, was already shared and read by hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
In the real world, breatharianism is nothing but dangerous quackery, which can lead to or exacerbate eating disorders. You need appropriate food for your body to function properly, and if you're looking for some form of spiritual enlightenment, this is definitely not the way. This is why this story is not only absurd and insulting, but it's also dangerous.
"You need protein to build muscle and you need fat to support your nervous system and for heart health, and you need carbohydrates to keep your energy up and to feed your brain," said Liz Sanders, a registered dietician nutritionist and the director of research and partnerships at the nonprofit International Food Information Council. The occasional apple or veggie broth just won't cut it, she says.