Health

Surprise: People Who Claim They Don't Eat or Drink Are Probably Liars

This month a British tabloid published a story about Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castillo, a self-styled "breatharian" couple who claimed they have "barely eaten for the last nine years" and are "sustained solely by the energy of the universe."

The couple spoke of how they "have survived on little else besides a piece of fruit or vegetable broth just 3 times per week" over the last decade. At one point, they claimed, they went three years without eating or drinking anything. Claiming "humans can easily be without food—as long as they are the connected to the energy that exists in all things and through breathing," the duo are portrayed as living only on light and air, while possessing an "understanding [of] cosmic nourishment (not just physical nourishment) and living without limits.”

Castillo even claimed that she carried two children while staying breatharian, knowing her "son would be nourished enough by my love and this would allow him to grow healthily in my womb." 

Like many outrageous medical woo stories, the Sun's tale was picked up by other tabloids, including the New York Post, and fringe alternative medicine websites, all of which re-printed Ricardo and Castillo's claims without contrasting them with basic science.

If anyone had checked, they'd quickly learn that the couple's claims defy everything we know about how both thermodynamics and the human body work. Their claims fall under the logical fallacy known as "special pleading," or asking for an unwarranted exception to established knowledge. 

The couple's claim of going "three years" without eating or drinking violates every known principle of human nutrition and physiology. The maximum amount of time a person can go without water is about three or four days, and around three weeks without food. 

Unsurprisingly, Ricardo and Castillo aren't the first people to claim they live a "breatharian" lifestyle, subsisting only on the life-giving energy of the universe, as opposed to food and drink like the rest of us suckers. 

In March, Broadly profiled two of what they described as "thousands" of breatharians who say they are sustained only be energy and occasional liquids. And a Ukrainian model gained a reputation as a "human Barbie doll" for her many plastic surgeries and outlandish claim that she subsists only on "air and light" in her effort to become "the most perfect woman on the internet."

It's incredibly dangerous, these stories: multiple people have died from trying to live breatharian beliefs. A teacher in Scotland, a mother of nine in Australia, and another person in Switzerland have all died grizzly deaths from starvation while attempting to subsist on light and air. 

Beatharianism comes with a grab bag of religious tenets, taking bits from Indian mysticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, and combining them with pseudoscientific concepts like sungazing (staring directly at the sun). It's a favorite of self-styled gurus who have gotten rich off people seeking mystical enlightenment, all of whom have failed to prove their claims.

The foremost practicitioner, an Australian woman who goes by "Jasmuheen," has written a slew of books about living off light, but has failed to demonstrate her abilities in several filmed attempts. Indeed, she was found to have a refrigerator full of food in her home.

Another guru, Wiley Brooks, calls himself the "founder of breatharianism." He sells breatharian workshops ad was interviewed on the Tom Snyder Show in 1981. He also was caught buying Twinkees at a 7-11, and has concocted an elaborate mythology that allows him to eat cheeseburgers and Diet Coke while simultaneously living off air and light.  

 

 

Yet another, an Indian mystic named Hira Ratan Manek, runs a "solar healing center" and claims to obtain all of his nutrition by staring at the sun. He was caught by a documentary crew eating at a restaurant in San Francisco. 

It's here that Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castillo bear a second look, because they too are monetizing their fringe beliefs, which they may not actually believe.

Ricardo's website hawks books, DVDs, $1,000 tickets to week-long retreats, and video courses, all of which promise to "correct damaged DNA, generate and rejuvenate emotional, mental and physical well-being, regulate the oxygen intake in the body and align the nervous system in the best interest of the overall health of human body."

Akhai Ricardo

Likewise, Castillo has a website called "Pranic Woman" where she sells video courses and books about "conscious evolution" and "living on light." The only hint from either that none of this has the slightest evidence to support it is a brief disclaimer on Castillo's site that what she sells is "for information purposes only." Ricardo, however, claims his program is "scientifically proven." 

After exposing the Sun's story as having originated with a British content company, CNN contacted the duo to follow up. Ricardo stood by all of his ridiculous claims, saying the exposure has led to "thousands" of people contacting him. He reiterated that "we all know the air is light. We all know there is energy in nature. So there's no way this can be dangerous."

The people who have died from breatharianism were unavailable for comment.