These Victorian Girls Baffled The World By Supposedly Going Months Without Eating

We may think that fad diets are a product of the modern age, but the truth is that history has seen its fair share of stranger — and more dangerous — health crazes. Back in the Victorian era, a group of girls became worldwide celebrities for eschewing all forms of food and drink. Apparently, they were sustained by little more than sunshine and air. But despite the fame and fortune that these remarkable feats brought, all was not quite as it seemed.

Spiritualism and pseudoscience

Today, the idea of going without food and drink completely sounds more than a little far-fetched. But in the 19th century, extreme fasting became something of a trend. And at a time when spiritualism and pseudoscience held a powerful sway over the western world, a strange narrative began to emerge.

Medieval fasting

Of course, the idea of extended fasting did not begin in Victorian times. In fact, the concept can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when saints such as Lidwina of Schiedam and Catherine of Siena were said to have survived without any physical nourishment at all. Then, hundreds of years later, young girls on both sides of the Atlantic began to mimic this astonishing ability.

A peculiar outbreak

Throughout the 1800s, a peculiar outbreak seemed to plague several communities across Britain and the United States. Again and again, young women were coming forward with the same astonishing claim: they no longer needed to eat or drink to survive. But who were these so-called fasting girls? And what was really going on?

The fasting girls

By the 1870s, reports claim, fasting girls were common enough that they appeared in several articles in the British Medical Journal. Often, the sufferers of this strange affliction were young, but sometimes women as old as 70 claimed to be under the same spell. What all of them had in common, though, was an apparent ability to thrive in the absence of any nutrition.