A married man and woman who say they subsist on “the universe’s energy” rather than food have gotten coverage from several major newspapers and websites in recent days. How did such an obvious hoax go viral? Here’s what we know.
The Story Originally Appeared In The British Tabloid The Sun
The article published on June 15 was — typically for the tabloid — heavy on quotes, capitalization and photos but light on fact-checking.
A “BREATHARIAN” mum-and-dad of two have barely eaten for nine years as they live off “the universe’s energy”.
Husband and wife Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello believe food and water is not necessary and that humans can be sustained solely by the energy of the universe.
Camila and Akahi — who have a five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter together — have survived on little else besides a piece of fruit or vegetable broth just 3 times per week since 2008.
And Camila even practised a Breatharian PREGNANCY — not eating anything during the entire nine months that she carried her first child.
The too-good-to-be-true story was subsequently picked up by a number of other tabloids and websites.
Yahoo, The Sun, The New York Post, The Independent, The Daily Mail, Metro and a number of other outlets ran stories on the couple’s supposed diet. The Independent’s story was shared approximately 37,000 times. The Daily Mail’s was shared about 24,000 times.
There Is, Obviously, No Truth To The Claim That Humans Can Survive Without Food
People need the energy from food to survive.
Although claims of “breatharians” surviving and thriving pop up every few years, we were unable to find any evidence contradicting the body of science demonstrating humans require water and food to stay alive. It’s possible the couple profiled by The Sun in June 2017 both genuinely made and believed their own claims, but we found no proof the impossible assertion was actually true. When tested, purported breatharians such as Jasmuheen failed to last more than a few days without food and water.
The Couple Disseminated Their Story Via A ‘Content Creation Company’
CNN’s Oliver Darcy figured out that the couple told their story to a content company that then sold the interview to various tabloids.
CNN traced the story’s genesis to News Dog Media, a UK-based content creation company that packages and sells tabloid-style news stories to media outlets. Matt Growcoot, a representative for the company, told CNN that News Dog Media conducted “two long interviews over Skype” with Ricardo and Castillo, then sold stories to several news outlets. (Upon purchasing the story, the outlets can re-write and edit the article to match their own style, Growcoot said.) Growcoot, who declined to provide the amount the outlets purchased the story for, said his company found the couple through the breatharian school they run.
Ricardo and Castello were apparently interested in raising the profile of their business, in which they teach others to follow the “breatharian” method.
In their eight-day programs and four-week online video courses, which cost from around $200 for a video course to more than $1,700 for an eight-day session in San Francisco, the couple claims they teach people to “increment the energy” they receive through conscious breathing techniques and other exercises.
[The New York Post]
The Couple Clarified In A Follow-Up Statement That They Do Eat Sometimes
Castello claimed that some of the statements attributed to her in various tabloid stories were “were taken out of context and in some cases outright falsified.”
In an exclusive statement to The Post, Camila Castillo and Akahi Ricardo said they don’t adhere to typical eating habits but admitted that reports last week claiming they’ve sustained themselves on little more than fruit or vegetable broth since 2008 — instead living off the “universe’s energy – was overblown.
“We do eat, just not with the same frequency or intensity as the average person,” the couple said in a statement to The Post Wednesday.
[The New York Post]
Critics Say That Promoting ‘Breatharianism’ Is Dangerous
Nutritionists are particularly gobsmacked by the notion that a woman could survive during pregnancy without food.
“You need protein to build muscle and you need fat to support your nervous system and for heart health, and you need carbohydrates to keep your energy up and to feed your brain,” said Liz Sanders, a registered dietician nutritionist and the director of research and partnerships at the nonprofit International Food Information Council.
The occasional apple or bowl of broth just isn’t going to cut it, she says.
“If you subsisted on that, you would be emaciated and pretty much unable to function normally,” Sanders said. “That’s a dangerous diet to subsist on … and during pregnancy, it’s extremely dangerous.”
And though the viral breatharian couple might seem laughable, registered dietician Abby Langer explains in Self why their claims could exacerbate people’s eating disorders.
There are people out there who might actually believe that these people are living in this manner. There are people with eating disorders or at risk of them who might be triggered by this couple’s absurd proclamations. There are people who actually can’t afford to eat and suffer mightily for it, making Ricardo and Castello’s unchecked, outrageous claims even more insulting.