Fasting is the willful refrainment from eating and sometimes drinking (see Water fasting and Juice fasting). From a purely physiological context, "fasting" may refer to the metabolic status of a person who has not eaten overnight (see the "Breakfast"), or to the metabolic state achieved after complete digestion and absorption of a meal. Several metabolic adjustments occur during fasting. Some diagnostic tests are used to determine a fasting state. For example, a person is assumed to be fasting once 8–12 hours have elapsed since the last meal. Metabolic changes of the fasting state begin after absorption of a meal (typically 3–5 hours after eating).

A diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting from 1 to 100 hours (depending on age) conducted under observation to facilitate the investigation of a health complication, usually hypoglycemia. Many people may also fast as part of a medical procedure or a check-up, such as preceding a colonoscopy or surgery, or prior to certain medical tests. Intermittent fasting is a technique sometimes used for weight loss that incorporates regular fasting into a person's dietary schedule. Fasting may also be part of a religious ritual, often associated with specifically scheduled fast days, as determined by the religion.