A Survey of Fasting, Vegetarianism, and Paranormal Experiences

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Michael J. Daw, Chris Roe, & Callum E. Cooper  
University of Northampton, United Kingdom

Introduction: We present an analysis of surveys of those who fast and/or are veg*an1 in order to examine potential associations between these dietary practices and paranormal experiences. A number of spiritual traditions include accounts of supernormal powers that are sometimes associated with fasting and veg*anism; for example, shamans may fast to support apparent psi-like abilities such as healing (Wright, 2013), and yogis who are strict vegetarians are said to exhibit powers such as mind-reading (Lamb, 2011). Some authors have related fasting and veg*anism to both spirituality and psi (e.g. Aivanhov, 1982; Carrington, 1920; Cousens, 2009). At the SSE-PA Connections 2021 conference, we presented an analysis of interviews with psi adepts who use fasting and veg*anism to enhance sensitivity to psi (Daw et al., 2021), which provided insights into the putative relationship between these, and related, dietary practices and psi. This paper builds on our research to examine reported paranormal experiences and abilities of those who follow these dietary practices but who do not identify as particularly adept at psi. 

Methods: We developed a questionnaire containing measures related to fasting; dietary choices including meat and dairy consumption; demographics; and the paranormal experiences and abilities subscales of the Anomalous Experiences Inventory (AEI) (Gallagher et al., 1994) using a Likert-type scale for frequency of experience. The AEI contains items related to a range of paranormal phenomena including telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, survival after death, and mystical experiences. We deployed the AEI because it has been assessed by its authors as having good reliability and validity and has been used by numerous previous research studies (e.g. Simmonds-Moore, 2009).  

The questionnaire was hosted using JISC Online Surveys2 and was publicised during Nov-Dec 2021 through twenty-six Facebook groups focused on either fasting or on veg*anism. A separate questionnaire was distributed to each of these two samples using the same items; however, the order of the first two measures (i.e., those related to fasting and veg*anism) was adjusted according to that most pertinent to the sample in question. This exercise yielded 154 valid responses for the fasting sample and 804 for the veg*an sample (N=958).  

Ethics: Ethical approval was secured from the University of Northampton (ref.: ETH2021-0128). Questionnaires were posted to Facebook only after explicit approval from the group’s administrator. Respondents were required either to engage in fasting or be veg*an (depending on the sample), and be over sixteen. Responses from anyone who did not meet these criteria were excluded from the analysis. Engagement was voluntary and anonymous, and respondents could choose not to respond to any item except those concerning consent and the inclusion criteria. Participants were informed about the study through an introductory page and were asked to confirm consent to participate without which it was not possible to access the survey. Respondents could withdraw during their response but were unable to do so after final submission (because data were anonymous).  

Results: We conducted a preliminary content analysis of open-ended items to determine variables amenable to statistical investigation. We then compared average AEI experience and ability scores against all dietary-related variables. AEI scores were calculated by summing “yes” responses in each subscale (i.e., those responding ”once,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” or “often” as opposed to “never”) allowing ranges of 0-28 and 0-16 for the AEI experience and ability scores respectively. Whenever this analysis suggested an association between AEI scores and dietary variables (using non-parametric techniques), we performed subsequent analyses against dietary variables on each of the individual items in the AEI measure, firstly by comparing proportions of those responding “yes” (using a chi-squared test) and secondly to detect any difference in frequency of experience (using non-parametric techniques).  

We found an association between AEI scores and each of fasting and reducing meat and dairy consumption. In addition, those whose maximum length of fast extended to three or more days in our fasting sample were found to have higher AEI scores. Vegans were also found to have a higher AEI ability score than vegetarians in our veg*an sample. These results are shown in Table 1.3  

Table 1. Association between AEI scores and fasting/meat and dairy consumption 

Responses to many of the individual AEI items reflected these associations. For example, the respective proportions reporting at least one experience of precognition (item P3) in the fasting sample were veg*ans 74%, meat reducers (e.g., those who avoid red meat) 64%, and omnivores 46%, X2(2, N=153)=7.3, p=0.026. Many items also showed an association between frequency of experience and dietary practice. 

Discussion: The most obvious interpretation of these results is that they confirm our psi adept study findings. Respondents who fast, and those who reduce their meat and dairy consumption, report more paranormal experiences and abilities than those who do not. If it is indeed the case that these dietary practices are conducive to psi, then we might expect similar results, although the strength of associations found is perhaps surprising.  

However, such associations may instead be due to a reverse relationship – perhaps those who report a greater incidence of paranormal experiences and abilities are more likely to adopt certain dietary practices. There may also be as yet undiscovered relationships involving other suggested correlates for paranormal ability not assessed within this survey, such as hypersensitivity (Jawer, 2006), that might affect both dietary practice and propensity to paranormal experience. It is also the case that our survey, whilst sufficient to yield significant results, nevertheless involves relatively small samples. It would be enlightening to discover whether initial findings might be replicated in larger surveys. 

Our studies so far have attempted to build a systematic understanding of the effect of dietary practices on psi in a natural environment as a basis for experimental research (Roe, 2019). We plan to explore this putative relationship further in experiments to test whether fasting and veg*anism, and perhaps other dietary modifications, offer improved performance in psi tasks. 

Aivanhov, O. M. (1982). The yoga of nutrition: Learning to feed consciously (Kindle-2). Editions Prosveta S.A. 

Carrington, H. (1920). Your psychic powers and how to develop them. Dodd, Mead and Company.

Cousens, G. (2009). Spiritual nutrition: Six foundations for spiritual life and the awakening of kundalini (Kindle). North Atlantic Books. 

Daw, M. J., Roe, C., & Cooper, C. E. (2021). How is fasting and vegetarianism perceived to support psi among adepts? [Paper presentation]. SSE-PA Connections 2021, online. https://youtu.be/mBl35oVzD5w 

Gallagher, C., Kumar, V. K., & Pekala, R. J. (1994). The Anomalous Experiences Inventory: Reliability and validity. Journal of Parapsychology, 58(4), 402–428. 

Jawer, M. (2006). Environmental sensitivity: Inquiry into a possible link with apparitional experience. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 70(882), 25–47. 

Lamb, R. (2011). Yogic powers and the Rāmānanda Sampradāy. In K. Jacobsen (Ed.), Yoga powers: Extraordinary capacities attained through meditation and concentration (pp. 427–458). BRILL. 

Roe, C. (2019). The value of spontaneous cases. The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research, 4–5. 

Simmonds-Moore, C. (2009). Sleep patterns, personality, and subjective anomalous experiences. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 29(1), 71–86. 

Wright, R. M. (2013). Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon. University of Nebraska Press. 

Course Instructor

Michael Daw
Michael Daw Author

Michael Daw is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Northampton with a lifelong interest in parapsychology. His first degree is in social science and he has an MSc in computation. He is currently trustee of a local environmental charity focused on action on climate change and increasing biodiversity. He has worked as a mathematics teacher, software engineer, a senior manager in higher education, and has supported academic research at three of the UK’s largest universities.

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