In 2013, Michelle Pfeiffer—the OG catwoman who starred in Batman Returns alongside Michael Keaton—admitted to being part of a movement that believed humans can exist without food or water. Joining the group when she reached Hollywood at the age of 20, Pfeiffer was convinced that the diet regime would keep her slim while simultaneously expanding her spiritual horizons.
At first, she was persuaded to become a vegetarian via fruitarianism—a diet that consists primarily of fruits. Slowly, the actress was conditioned to replace food and water with the sun and passive inhalation of “cosmic micro-dust” from the air. Yes, you read that right. Visiting the group three times a week, Pfeiffer realised that the members gradually emptied her bank account with their constant demands for fees. At the time, the actress was helping her future husband, actor Peter Horton, with a film about the Moonies (members of the religious movement widely known as the Unification Church).
“I was helping him to do research on this cult and I realised I was in one!” Pfeiffer said, as noted by the Daily Mail. Horton then helped the actress cut ties with the group, who claimed that she wouldn’t be able to survive without them. Enter Breatharianism, an American movement founded by Wiley Brooks in the early 80s, preaching a sun and dust diet that has now become a core trend in pro-anorexia communities.
Claiming to have fasted for 19 years, Brooks was first introduced to the public in 1980 by deadlifting 1,100 pounds on a variety show called That’s Incredible!. Shortly after, the Daily Mail reported that he’d been a New York-based sound engineer for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Though the claims were unverified, Brooks appeared on Tom Snyder’s The Tomorrow Show a year later to preach that absolutely anyone can live with the nutrients obtained from air and sunlight.
“Breatharianism is a philosophy that believes that the human body, when it’s in perfect harmony with itself and nature, is a perfect Breatharian—you know, all the constituents that we need [are] taken from the air we breathe,” Brooks told Snyder. “There is only one thing that keeps the human body alive, and that is breathing. The food that we take is the same as any other thing we take into the body as it becomes a habit. In other words, eating is an acquired habit, just like alcohol or smoking cigarettes.”
Brooks then went on to make questionable claims like how Breatharian mothers don’t need to feed their babies, who are born with the ability to survive on air and sun. He also believed that those who pass away during hunger strikes are “killed by their death wish, not from starvation.”
Just to be clear, if you try to live off air and light, common sense is that this supposed ‘diet’ would end tragically. Common sense and actual statistics, that is. Despite the detractors, however, Brooks gathered a huge number of followers and he eventually set up the Breatharian Institute in Larkspur, California back in 1982. At the time, Brooks advised against fasting and followers were first urged to “clean their blood” with 24 food items featuring a “yellow vibration quality.” This included grapefruit, eggs, chicken, fish and… rum-and-raisin Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Over time, Brooks’ beliefs and rules about diet culture kept changing. In 1983, the leader was seen leaving a 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, a hot dog and Twinkies. Trays of room service food, including chicken pot pie and biscuits, were found outside his hotel room in Vancouver. Co-founder of the Breatharians, Lavelle Lefler, then charged her partner with “sneaking junk food into his room after everyone is asleep.”
“I have taught yoga for 15 years and I have been to India, where people survive without eating, so I know the Breatharian concept is true,” Lefler told media outlets in 1983. “When I first met Wiley I believed in him so much I gave him my own phone and office to serve as headquarters for the institute.”
About a month and a half later, however, Lefler saw Brooks eat an omelette. “I was so shocked, I didn’t react. He thought he was safe and started eating around me all the time,” she said. “The truth is, he sneaks into 7-Elevens and fast food places and eats just like the rest of us—except worse because he has to rely on places that are open late into the night.”
When Brooks began losing followers, he responded with an accusation of his own against Lefler. “We were romantically involved. We broke up. Now, she’s out for revenge. What she says is a bunch of garbage,” he claimed. “I go into 7-Elevens all the time, but only to buy magazines. I go to restaurants and to health food stores because my friends eat. No one can prove I’ve taken any food.”
Then came the McDonald’s fiasco. Brooks believed that humans aren’t supposed to live in a third-dimensional (3D) reality. Instead, we’re all fifth-dimensional (5D) beings who are trapped on Earth—currently being sucked into this 3D world, which is why we feel the urge to eat 3D food. So when the leader was caught eating—apologies, “easting”—McDonald’s, he incorporated the American fast-food giant into his philosophy.
According to him, all McDonald’s locations are apparently built on properties protected by 5D energies and spiritual portals. This is why “Breatharians feel happier and at peace in McDonald’s.” Say what now? He then went on to recommend his followers to drink as much Diet Coke and eat as many Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese as possible before they meditate—claiming that Diet Coke is “liquid light” and cows are “magical fifth-dimensional converters who turn third-dimensional food into fifth-dimensional food.”
With a heavy focus on spirituality, Brooks basically evolved into urging his followers to either starve or eat fast food, up until his death in 2016. Abandoning his classes, the leader then devoted 100 per cent of his time to “solve the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely.” Nevertheless, Brooks catapulted from being a diet peddler to a guru—all in the language of what we now call “wellness.”