After spending 21 days without food, Angelique Michel claims she gained a new energy and she has never felt hungry again.
She was neither starving nor fasting but training herself to become a breatharian - people who do not use food and drink for nourishment but instead claim they sustain themselves through sunlight. They might consume around a tenth of the caloric intake of most people eat.
“I did it to enjoy life further, and to gain so much energy in return. It's real freedom from my physical body to not be constantly in need of something,” says the Belgian yoga instructor and pranic healer. Prana is said to be about cosmic energy in the universe, according to Hindu philosophy.
Describing herself as a former big emotional eater, Ms Michel, who lives in Dubai, says becoming a breatharian as of June 14 has detached her from the need for food. She claims this is because there are other sources of energy that allow the human body to survive.
“It is not about depriving yourself of anything but detaching yourself,” says the woman who is believed to be the first breatharian in the region."
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Breatharians can choose to continue to drink water and have small tastes of food from time to time, but they say this is not out of hunger but just for a change of taste.
Ms Michel starts her day by drinking a glass of water, and she continues to cook for her family and friends, sits with them for meals at home, or in cafés and restaurants.
In general, she barely consumes 300 to 400 calories a day, far lower than the human recommended average of about 2,000 a day. She has dropped two dress sizes since she started and appears to looks healthy and active.
“The aim is definitely not to differentiate yourself from anyone else because it is a personal choice, not something to impose,” says the 41-year-old.
She started her journey last month, by going through a guided detox programme during which she spent 21 days without eating any food - and for the first three days she did not even drink water. She spent the first nine days at a retreat in Belgium with 22 other breatharians-to-be.
They were guided by two pioneers – Dominique Verga, who has been a breatharian for three years, and Domenico Provenzano, who has been a breatharian for nine years.
“It is the time when your body has made that shift, when you don’t eat and just drink water, then the shift has happened. It doesn’t matter after that what you do because the body doesn’t take food as a necessity, hunger is not there anymore,” Ms Michel says.
“And the funny thing is, for me, from the first day hunger was not there. Just sometimes I feel the desire to taste.”
The last meal she had – a plate of French fries - was on June 13, a day before starting the programme.
On the last three days of the group retreat in Belgium, when physical activity was added, she said she was eager, with her new energy, to do a headstand.
“The strength was perfect but felt different because the blood is so clean. Whatever you do, you feel your heart is pumping like crazy, so your body has to readjust to functioning with thin and clean blood,” she says.
The most challenging part, however, was traveling to France to see some family right after the retreat.
“I met the part of my family who were not understanding, so they were only waiting for me to fail,” she says.
“They were constantly testing me. They would tell me, ‘If you have energy, let’s go for a 12km bike ride in the countryside’.
“I said OK and did it, then guess who was tired and needed a nap? My uncle, not me.”
She agrees that breatharianism contradicts the traditional scientific understanding of the human body. However, she believes once people become more familiar with it, there will be a better understanding of how it works.
There are about 60,000 people around the world who say they are breatharians, some of whom are said to be second generation. Breatharian mothers are also able to produce milk and lactate for two to three years, Ms Michel says.
If misunderstood, however, breatharianism can be very dangerous, she admits.
“It would be very dangerous if you take this like you take any other method of stopping food,” she says.
“It should not be mistaken for fasting or dieting, where people deprive themselves from food for a certain amount of time."
She warns that “if teenagers want to do this to lose weight, I would tell them: this is very different. Because you wouldn’t want someone to go through this the wrong way.”