Gaunt and weak, the sham diet guru who refuses to see the light

She claims to survive on a diet of fruit tea and sunlight, and she preaches a philosophy of starvation as a pathway to spiritual cleansing. But if any gullible soul still thought the "teachings" of the Australian new-age guru Ellen Greve were anything more than a dangerous sham, confirmation was provided this week when she took up a challenge to be monitored during a seven-day fast.

She claims to survive on a diet of fruit tea and sunlight, and she preaches a philosophy of starvation as a pathway to spiritual cleansing. But if any gullible soul still thought the "teachings" of the Australian new-age guru Ellen Greve were anything more than a dangerous sham, confirmation was provided this week when she took up a challenge to be monitored during a seven-day fast.

3 Ms Greve, a former Brisbane businesswoman who prefers to be known as Jasmuheen, maintains that she has eaten nothing for five years except for the occasional chocolate biscuit. She says that she is nourished by "Pranic energy" in the atmosphere, and she has made a fortune from lectures and books that expound the wonders of "living on light".

In a move that seems foolhardy, Jasmuheen, who is about to tour Britain, recently agreed to be closeted in a hotel room by an Australian current affairs programme, 60 Minutes. She was watched day and night by a female security guard to ensure she took neither food nor water, and her medical condition was checked regularly by Berris Wenck, a doctor who is president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association.

Deprived of conventional sustenance, Jasmuheen, 42, became dehydrated and lost weight. Her speech slowed, her pupils dilated, she appeared listless and gaunt.

In other words, she experienced all the physical symptoms that afflict human beings when they refrain from eating and drinking. After four days, on the advice of Dr Wenck, 60 Minutes abandoned the trial, the results of which were broadcast on Sunday night.

To have seen this self-styled prophet of the Breatharian Movement, as it is known, exposed as a mere mortal on national television might have been considered entertainment, were it not for the fact that the deaths of three people have been linked to her theories - and that thousands more deluded disciples around the world are putting those same theories into practice.

The most recent death was that of Verity Linn, an Australian woman whose emaciated body was found on amountain in north-west Scotland in July. Among her possessions were a copy of Jasmuheen's book, Living On Light, and a diary revealing that she was taking part in a 21-day fast. Jasmuheen's books and Internet sites may also have contributed to the fatal fasts of a Melbourne woman, Lani Morris, last summer, and of a German kindergarten teacher, Timo Degen, in 1997.

What television viewers witnessed was the first stage in a process that, if unchecked, leads inexorably to death. Jasmuheen was getting a taste of the medicine that she prescribes - probably for the first time because she is usually a picture of good health.

Visitors to her large villa in the prosperous Chapel Hill area of Brisbane invariably find her refrigerator generously stocked with food, all of it destined, she insists, for the stomach of her second husband, Jeff Ferguson, a convicted fraudster.

Brazen to the last, Jasmuheen claimed on 60 Minutes that the dice were loaded against her during the trial because city pollution from the road outside the hotel limited the nutrients that she was able to derive from fresh air.

Two days into the fast, producers moved her to a mountain retreat, but 48 hours later Dr Wenck warned that Jasmuheen faced kidney damage if she persisted. At this point, the presenter, Richard Carlton, asked Jasmuheen: "Can you come to the intelligent view yet that you can't survive on air?"

Her customary whining tones made faint by malnutrition, she said: "No, that's not true, because I've done it for a long period, and 6,000 people around the world have done this without any problem."

Jasmuheen then went on to claim that she had 100 million supporters across the globe, adding: "We're dealing with intelligent, switched-on people who don't need gurus. I write books, I put information out on the Net. If people feel it works for them, they may apply some of the principles."

Breatharianism, a term for extreme fasting, is not new; for many years it has been practised by Tibetan monks, but only for relatively short periods.

An American Breatharian guru, Wiley Brooks, who claimed not to have eaten for 19 years, was discredited in the 1980s after he was spotted emerging from a fast food shop clutching a chicken pie.

Jasmuheen founded her branch of the movement in 1993, explaining to the sceptics: "I have found another form of nourishment. It's called Pranic light,which is the light of God found all over the universe."

In a press release issued by e-mail last night from one of her organisations, the Self Empowerment Academy, she dismissed the findings, adding: "What appears to be delusion to some is simply a preferable reality to others, for without our dreams and visions, humanity has no hope."

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