Paolo Martinez Photography / Getty Images

As much as we love food, there are more and more movements to avoid it altogether.

June 20, 2017

Consuming food isn’t wrong. First of all, eating is enjoyable – so much so that entire magazines and websites (cough) exist to discuss all of the world’s wonderful eating experiences. But second, we also need food to live… or at least that’s what the vast majority of people believe. Last week, however, an article in the UK’s The Sun provided a pulpit for the opposite opinion, interviewing a couple of “Breatharians.” Think “vegetarians,” except instead of only eating plants, they survive on air alone. So they claim.

“Humans can easily be without food – as long as they are connected to the energy that exists in all things and through breathing,” said Camila Castello, a supposedly 34-year-old mother of two who supposedly splits time between California and Ecuador. (When you say you live without eating, suddenly everything you say comes into question.) According to The Sun, Castello and her husband, Akahi Ricardo, have survived on nothing but the occasional fruit or broth a few times a week for nearly a decade. Castello even claims she didn’t eat for the entire pregnancy of her first child. “For three years, Akahi and I didn’t eat anything at all and now we only eat occasionally like if we’re in a social situation or if I simply want to taste a fruit,” she said, explaining her eating habits since 2008. “With my first child, I practiced a Breatharian pregnancy. Hunger was a foreign sensation to me, so I fully lived on light and ate nothing.” Well, at least she had light.

Setting aside that experts assert that these Breatharian claims are completely unsubstantiated, let’s address a larger issue: Why advocate against eating? Sure, eating isn’t perfect. Overeating leads to obesity. Sugary drinks might need warning labels. Meat can give you cancer. (So can light, for the record.) But I’m not talking about gorging on an entire meat-lovers pizza and regretting it the next day. Instead, why are some people so reluctant to the simple pleasure of enjoying food in a responsible way? Celebrities tout juice cleanses. Silicon Valley wants you to survive off of Soylent. Apps exist to help you track your fasting on your iPhone. Meanwhile, Breatharian-like claims of surviving off of “the universe’s energy” have been going on for years, if not centuries.

For Breatharian claims, the ease with which they can be debunked is important. “It’s obviously something that’s not based in medical fact,” Dr. Roshini Raj from the NYU Langone Medical Center told the New York Post after the paper reposted The Sun’s story. “It’s incompatible with life. There is some evidence that caloric restriction may be beneficial to your health, but certainly nothing to this extreme. If they truly believe it themselves, they’re delusional. There’s just no way it would ever be possible.”

Raj touches on a couple of interesting points: The evidence that some benefit may exist to eating less, and the idea that these claims are extreme. A healthy diet requires us to be mindful of our diets (a diet that consists of food) – and yes, limiting our food intake to reasonable amounts. But being extreme – whether through something as ludicrous as Breatharianism or something more innocuous like a juice cleanse – is actually the easy way out. We can sit here and pretend that people can survive without eating, eliminating all the problems of dealing with eating’s impact on our weight, health and well-being, but this fiction keeps us from dealing with the real consequences of our diets.

Lying about what you eat is easy. Being mindful of what you eat is more difficult: It’s a challenge many people face every day with real consequences. Eating properly (and adequately) is an issue that needs to be highlighted; a couple of outrageous claims about surviving for years without food is far less newsworthy by comparison.