An appreciation of the physiology of fasting is essential to the understanding of therapeutic dietary interventions and the effect of food deprivation in various diseases. The practice of prolonged fasting for political or religious purposes is increasing, and a physician is likely to encounter such circumstances. Early in fasting weight loss is rapid, averaging 0.9 kg per day during the first week and slowing to 0.3 kg per day by the third week; early rapid weight loss is primarily due to negative sodium balance. Metabolically, early fasting is characterized by a high rate of gluconeogenesis with amino acids as the primary substrates. As fasting continues, progressive ketosis develops due to the mobilization and oxidation of fatty acids. As ketone levels rise they replace glucose as the primary energy source in the central nervous system, thereby decreasing the need for gluconeogenesis and sparing protein catabolism. Several hormonal changes occur during fasting, including a fall in insulin and T(3) levels and a rise in glucagon and reverse T(3) levels. Most studies of fasting have used obese persons and results may not always apply to lean persons. Medical complications seen in fasting include gout and urate nephrolithiasis, postural hypotension and cardiac arrhythmias.