Can We Exist Without Food?
Back in the early 1980s when I was living in California and immersing myself in the study of nutrition, there was quite a bit of talk about a man who was teaching the principles of being a “Breatharian” – that is, the kind of diet where you exist exclusively on air. In other words, you don’t eat any food. Really as the story goes, he hadn’t eaten in 10 years. Now, there are all sorts of stories from various traditions around the globe where saints, sages, and yogis could exist without food for strangely long periods of time. Having heard some of these tales, and with my intense fascination around nutrition and the possible frontiers of the human body I was determined to find and learn from the man who ate no food. At the very least, this would save me lots of cash in terms of my organic grocery bill. And at best, it would put me in the same hallowed ZIP Code as some pretty amazing eaters. It would also be a great way to get attention at parties.
So, through my network of well-placed nutrition spies I discovered that the Breatharian was teaching a private and exclusive workshop at a beautiful home surrounded by redwoods trees in northern California. I secured myself a spot in the weekend seminar, and was ready to learn the secrets of existing on air, and air alone. Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into, but I imagined I would be learning esoteric breathing techniques, secret mantras, and exotic herb teas to drink that would transform my physiology into a super human state. I was ready.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the workshop.
A friend had borrowed my car for a camping trip and had promised to get it back to me just in time for the three-hour road trip I needed to take. Promise not fulfilled. This was all before the days of cell phones, so I was in the dark as to what happened to my friend, my car, and what I would do if I missed the opportunity of a lifetime. I was so deeply submerged in the fantasy of never having to eat food again that the thought of missing this workshop and eating food for the rest of my life seemed like a cruel disappointment.
Late Saturday night, my friend arrived with my car. He was happy, well camped, and offered me every lame hippie excuse about why my car arrived two days late. He even had the nerve to ask me for food because he was so hungry – which was a tough one for me because I’d already missed two days of a three-day workshop on living food-free, so I didn’t really know if I would ever need food again or not.
Determined as ever, I left at 5 AM the next morning. I was confident I could convince the Breatharian who hadn’t eaten for 10 years to give me a few extra days of his time to teach me his secrets. I arrived at the retreat in the redwoods. It was almost 9 AM in the morning, and I thought it odd that a number of the participants seemed to be packing up their cars to leave. There was still an entire day left in the workshop. And that’s when I learned a very interesting story:
After two days of participants going without food, breathing air, and absorbing the rays of the sun into their naked bodies, the Foodless One was going to reveal his deepest teachings on the final day. To do so, he needed to go into the woods and stay up all evening while speaking to the spirits. During this time, participants were asked to stay up all night sitting in a circle in a meditative vigil. As it turns out, one of the attendees was a 52-year-old man who was rather unhealthy and rather overweight. He wasn’t in the workshop for “spiritual reasons” like everyone else – he just wanted to drop 100 pounds. The poor fellow couldn’t last much longer though, and he escaped into town to binge on pizza. Feeling all guilty, and not wanting anyone to see him, he took the entire pie “to go” and walked into the back of the parking lot and into the bushes to do his dirty eating deed in hiding.
Guess who was in the bushes?
It was the foodless Breatharian.
And guess what he was doing?
That’s right, eating pizza.
The workshop participant yelped like a wounded dog, dropped his pizza, and drove back to the redwoods to inform everyone of his discovery. Some were angry, some were devastated, and all were hungry. There was no food in the house. Some wanted to wait for the Foodless One to return so they could confront him about his evil doings. I certainly did. But he never showed up. He left his suitcase there, his clothing, and all the little things one takes for a three-day jaunt. We eventually went through his possessions, looking for further clues of his criminal nature. We discovered bubblegum, a pack of cigarettes, and a bag of Doritos corn chips. Busted once again.
There was a participant who I would guess was in her 30s. She was very attractive, petite, and sincere. She and I stayed the longest. For most of that time, she cried like a baby. I felt compassion for her, and was fascinated as to why she felt so hurt. I asked her, she explained, but I couldn’t really understand the depth of her tears until many years later.
She told me that the Breatharian had promised her she would never need to eat again.
She said in earnest that this was the greatest thing anyone had ever told her, and that it would make everything better. She said she wouldn’t have to battle the demons anymore. I asked her in all my clueless honesty what those demons were. She said I couldn’t understand. Of course, she was right, but I asked her to explain anyways. She said if she didn’t need to eat food, she could move on with her life. She wouldn’t have to deal with “this” anymore – and pointed to several parts of her body. I realized later she was pointing to her body fat.
I think there might be a few good morals to this story. First, there might be people out there, somewhere, who can truly exist on air, but most of us seem to be eaters. And being an eater often means that we need to learn the lessons that food likes to teach us. We are here to learn how to nourish ourselves, how to nourish others, how to love our bodies, how to feel the pleasure of earthly life, and how to be with all sorts of emotional challenges that would have us go to food to make ourselves feel better, rather than go to the heart of our suffering – the place where true transformation usually awaits us. Our relationship with food often strikes to the core of our self-worth – it asks us to indeed stop using food as a sleeping pill, and to wake up with eyes wide open to the kind of life worth living. For most of us, there’s just no escaping the lessons that food and body are here to teach.
And the last moral of the story – if you are on the road to using air as your sole source of nutrition, I suggest you stay away from pizza. It can cause the best of us to stray from the path of foodlessness.
Can you describe a moment when one of your food rules got busted?
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