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The idea that the human body can survive indefinitely without food is called inedia. Practitioners claim that by using various methods and techniques, they can function normally without traditional nourishment. A related concept, breatharianism, purports that neither food nor water are required to live, and that spiritual energy is enough to sustain a person. Some breatharians claim that sunlight and air serve as their nourishment.
Inedia is considered different from dieting or eating disorders that severely restrict calories to promote weight loss. Although the effects could be considered similar to what happens to sufferers of anorexia nervosa, those who practice inedia do not consider it a disorder or even a diet, but rather an overall lifestyle choice. They view it as the freedom not to eat and the ability to process other sources of energy to keep their bodies functioning normally. The ability to restrict food intake is actually considered a side effect of living a spiritual life rather than a path to spirituality.
The practice of inedia has religious roots, most particularly in Roman Catholicism and Hinduism. In the Catholic faith, several saints and Jesus himself were known to live for extended periods of time without sustenance. Hindu history cites some examples of religious people who lived as breatharians as well. Various other religions also refer to fasting in terms of its use as a religious devotional practice and for self-purification. Inedia takes the idea of fasting to the next level, with practitioners able to demonstrate the extent of their spirituality by living on spirituality alone.
In modern times, there have been several well-publicized examples of people who have claimed to be practicing inedia. Perhaps the best know is an Australian woman named Ellen Greve, also called Jasmuheen. Her ability to go indefinitely without food or water was actually put to the test for an Australian television program. The experiment was cut short, however, when she showed signs of extreme dehydration and doctors feared for her safety.
Scientifically, there is little proof that inedia is a sustainable lifestyle choice. The human body requires food and water to survive; without it, one risks starvation and dehydration. There is little to no evidence that those who have or do claim to be inediates actually live with no nourishment, and in some cases people who have claimed to practice it have been shown to consume some food and water. In others, practitioners have died from their efforts.