Many physiological changes occur in the body during fasting. During the first day or so, the body uses its glycogen reserves, the sugars that are the basic energy supply. After these are depleted, the body begins using fat. However, the brain, which has high fuel requirements, still needs glucose (sugars converted from glycogen). To obtain glucose for the brain, the body begins to break down muscle tissue during the second day of the fast. Thus, during fasting some muscle loss will occur. To fuel the brain, the body would need to burn over a pound of muscle a day, but the body has developed another way to create energy that saves important muscle mass. This protein-sparing process is called ketosis, which occurs during the third day of a fast for men and the second day for women. In this highly efficient state, the liver begins converting stored fat and other nonessential tissues into ketones, which can be used by the brain, muscles, and heart as energy. It is at this point in the fast that sensations of hunger generally go away, and many people experience normal or even increased energy levels. Hormone levels and certain functions become more stable in this state as well. The goal of most fasts is to allow the body to reach the ketosis state in order to burn excess fat and unneeded or damaged tissue. Thus, fasts longer than three days are generally recommended as therapy.
Keep in mind that the initial weight lost on a fast is primarily fluid or "water weight," not fat. And when you go back to eating, any lost weight usually gets a return ticket back. Not only do most people regain weight lost on a fast, they tend to add a few extra pounds because a slower metabolism makes it easier to gain weight. Worse, the weight that is regained is likely to be all fat -- lost muscle has to be added back at the gym.
Often fasting is done for medical or health reasons, or in an attempt to lose weight. For many other people, fasting is an important part of their religious observance. Fasting is done by Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jews, among other groups. Fasting comes from fast, which in turn has an Old English root, fæsten, "voluntary abstinence from food or drink, especially as a religious duty."
A diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting from 8–72 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. Fasting may also be part of a religious ritual.