Adult humans often undertake acute fasts for cosmetic, religious or medical reasons. For example, an estimated 14% of US adults have reported using fasting as a means to control body weight and this approach has long been advocated as an intermittent treatment for gross refractory obesity. There are unique historical data sets on extreme forms of food restriction that give insight into the consequences of starvation or semi-starvation in previously healthy, but usually non-obese subjects. These include documented medical reports on victims of hunger strike, famine and prisoners of war. Such data provide a detailed account on how the body adapts to prolonged starvation. It has previously been shown that fasting for the biblical period of 40 days and 40 nights is well within the overall physiological capabilities of a healthy adult. However, the specific effects on the human body and mind are less clearly documented, either in the short term (hours) or in the longer term (days). This review asks the following three questions, pertinent to any weight-loss therapy, (i) how effective is the regime in achieving weight loss, (ii) what impact does it have on psychology? and finally, (iii) does it work long-term?