Yes, unfortunately this is a real thing. It is also a lesson in how to deal with people.

Breatharians are an offshoot of New Age and identify themselves with key words such as ‘Pranic nourishment’, ‘spiritual paradigm’, ‘ higher consciousness’, and ‘energy healing’. Their belief is based on legends and anecdotes about priests or other seekers who went long periods of time, 35 years in one anecdote, without consuming anything more than tea or maybe some citrus each day. I’ve also seen a lot of advertisements from these same groups that promote lemon water and sunlight as a cancer cure.

A recent example of this was a woman who tried to go 100 days without food (Seattle Times, Vice interview). Others like her had claimed to a year or so without it, but the difference this time is that she had set up webcams for believers and skeptics alike to monitor her progress (and watch for cheating). She dropped out after 47 days of consuming only tea and some milk, and light, of course. Predictably, this reduced her body weight from 159 to 126 pounds.

When asked by Vice if she consulted a doctor, her response was : “A doctor’s picture of life is not in tune with living on light. They simply can’t see it; it’s just not in their paradigm.”

My point with the comic is that Kate’s approach here is antagonistic, and that the fervor with which we reject New Age ideas ends up burning bridges. As much as we want to shake someone by the shoulders in frustration, we forfeit our remaining social currency by doing so.

Almost every alternative health organization is hostile towards the scientific and medical community, and after hearing the scoffing and Ad Hominems from our side I find it understandable. If your reaction is that ‘true believers’ are a lost cause, if you disregard their agency by casting doubt on their sanity, then what’s the point? I argue there is value in assuming that these people reasoned themselves into this situation and that it sounded like a good idea to them at the time. Maybe you can exercise some understanding to reason them back out of it before they try to starve themselves.

↓ Transcript
Did you know that natural light is therapeutic and healing? It might be better for you than food!

Wow! Here's a person who lived on nothing but Sunlight-!

You are NOT a plant!

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