Brit in Seattle attempts to live without food

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Who needs food when you've got the universal life force? (Photo by  Martin Sharman )

A journey into the global movement of people who say they can survive without eating.

Update: Naveena Shine ended her ‘Living on Light Experiment’ on June 19th, after 47 days, citing financial problems and an overwhelmingly negative public reaction. In the weeks after we first published this post on the Globalist, Shine’s story was picked up by media outlets around the world, where she was the subject of thousands of mostly negative comments.

Eating is undeniably one of the most basic—and enjoyable—functions of daily life. But what if food were not necessary for survival?

Believe it or not, the idea is centuries old. Yet, despite the hundreds of individuals over the years claiming to have survived long periods without eating, none have definitely proven the ability to do so.

Seattle resident Naveena Shine has undertaken a daring spiritual experiment to determine whether living without food is possible.

For the next four to six months, 65-year-old Shine plans to consume only water and tea. This ability to live without food is commonly called “living on light” among followers—‘light’ referring to the innate source supposedly existing within each of us that, if harnessed, allows us to live comfortably without food.

“If you look at food as an addiction, then when you get off the addiction, what I’m suggesting is that there is another source of nourishment that is already installed within our bodies,” Shine says, “but of course we eat, we suppress it, we don’t use it.”

Shine is not only attempting to survive—and thrive—without eating, but also is recording the entire experience as “proof.” For the duration of the experiment, she plans to not leave the watch of eight cameras she has installed around her home.

It’s already day 31 of her journey, and she says she’s feeling well, despite thus far losing about 20 pounds.


Naveena explains the rationale behind her “experiment”

Those claiming to “live on light” often call themselves “Breatharians,” referring to the derivation of sustenance from only the air and sunshine. Although the term is relatively modern, the idea has roots in the ancient religious practice of fasting. Some refer to the phenomenon of living on light as living on “prana,” a Hindu (Sanskrit) term for the universal life force.

But is living without food even possible?

At the outset, the idea is absurd—and downright dangerous. When we stop eating, we eventually die. Simple as that.

Jennifer Adler, a certified nutritionist based in the Seattle area, explains how food is a basic necessity for survival.

“It takes energy from food to fuel all of our physical processes from digestion to heartbeat,” Adler says. “Eventually, if we continue not to eat our body decays from using its own stores, and our heart will stop working.”

Air: It's brisk and refreshing, but sadly has no nutritional value. (Photo by  Liz Poage )

Air: It’s brisk and refreshing, but sadly has no nutritional value. (Photo by Liz Poage )

Just last year, a Swiss woman died attempting to live on light. She was the fourth known death due to the phenomenon.

Shine however insists that, if possible, living on light is a spiritual rather than physical journey.

“It’s a transformation,” she says. “If you believe something is going to happen, it usually does. Somebody who believes they are going to die is probably not going to get very far.”

To her credit, Shine doesn’t claim to have the answers, including the exact definition of the “light” source. She says she doesn’t believe or not believe in the ability to live on light, simply because she hasn’t tried it out yet.

Some consider Breatharianism a cult. Characters like Wiley Brooks, self-proclaimed Breatharian and founder of the “Breatharian Institute of America,” don’t exactly help the cause.

I tried talking with Brooks, but after many dropped phone calls, he complained that the Illuminati were preventing him from contacting me. He also apparently eats junk food often (think about it), and offers “Immortality Workshops” for the low price of $1 billion.

Right, moving on.

Another, perhaps more famed Breatharian is prominent living-on-light advocate Jasmuheen. An Australian citizen, Jasmuheen claims to have lived on light since 1993 and has gained a following by lecturing and writing about the concept. However, Shine says that when put to the test, Jasmuheen failed.


Australian guru Jasmuheen’s Breatharian experiment on Australian 60 Minutes.

Controversy aside, Shine certainly doesn’t identify herself as an actual Breatharian. By all respects she sounds, perhaps surprisingly, very normal.

In a cheery English accent, she tells me how she likes word games, enjoys exercise and, oh, that she also once held a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for walking on extremely hot coals.

“What I like to do is challenge my fears,” Shine says, “because when you’re full of fear you don’t ever have any space to be free.”

Born in England, she has traveled extensively on spiritual quests. She’s been a teacher, caregiver, waitress and author, writing three books and one travelogue. She has married, sky dived and bungee jumped. Now that she’s finished up most everything she wants to do in life, she sees experimenting with living on light as a sort of calling.

“I didn’t do this because I wanted to live on light,” Shine says. “It’s because I wanted the world to know if it’s possible, because nobody has done this and I think this is probably the most important news that the world could ever get.”

The benefits are certainly immeasurable—more free time, more spending money and fewer health and environmental problems, to name a few. One thing it probably wouldn’t do, however: solve world hunger.

“People who are starving are usually in pretty intense emotional and psychological situations, and they probably couldn’t do this,” Shine says.


Shine’s latest Youtube update

Shine herself is not under the watch of a medical professional (imagine that awkward check-up). She says that if she finds herself “declining,” she will stop. On the other hand, if successful, she has little concern with how society uses the knowledge.

“The world can do what they like with it or not,” she says.

As for now, the jury is out. Oh, and her response to skeptics?

“Good for them, you’ve got to be skeptical,” Shine says. “There’s so many crazy things out there that aren’t true.”

Warning: Not eating is extremely dangerous and can kill you. Neither Shine nor I recommend that anyone attempt to live on light, so please do yourself a favor and don’t try it. 

Born and raised in the Seattle area, Sheridan Smalley is a graduating senior majoring in journalism at the University of Washington. With a passion for both writing and editing, she has worked in various editorial and public relations roles in both Seattle and Chicago. In her free time, she can often be found on the tennis court, playing piano or wandering abroad on one of her many travels. Next year, she looks forward to entering the Seattle PR scene with a local tech-PR company.

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