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The section on Exhaustion states:

[...] Finishing a long rest reduces a creature's exhaustion level by 1, provided that the creature has also ingested some food and drink [...]

However, there are various ways to no longer require food or drink such as the Monk's Timeless Body feature:

At 15th level, your ki sustains you so that you suffer none of the frailty of old age, and you can’t be aged magically. You can still die of old age, however. In addition, you no longer need food or water.

With a feature such as Timeless Body, do long rests remove a level exhaustion even if you do not eat or drink?

For some context, I was planning to have a party gain a level of exhaustion and got locked away from food and drink (they also cannot summon food/drink, and do not have access to greater restoration); one of them is a Monk and I'm unsure if the exhaustion level will be removed upon taking a long rest.

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I like Smart_TJ's answer (and upvoted it), but I think it's just as valid to rule the opposite way.

On this matter, Timeless Body states only that

[...] you no longer need food or water

This statement isn't limited to any specific category of need (it doesn't say "you no longer need food or water for the purpose of sustenance alone"). It's plausible to say that the correct interpretation of this statement is that "you no longer need food or water for any purpose".

From that perspective, the exhaustion rule would be adjudicated this way:

  • You have at least one level of exhaustion
  • You are taking a long rest to reduce your exhaustion level by one
  • For that purpose you would normally need to ingest some food and drink
  • Timeless Body explicitly removes the need for food and water for any purpose
  • Therefore the requirement to ingest food and drink becomes non-operative
  • You can, as a result, remove a level of exhaustion simply by taking a long rest, because no other constraints or requirements are operative beyond the long rest itself

This works on two of the most common rule-ambiguity-resolution heuristics: things do what they say they do (no need for food), and specific beats general (while most would need food and drink, a character with Timeless Body specifically does not).

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This effect says that they lose exhaustion after consuming food, not that they lose exhaustion if they are not hungry. Since they do not actually consume any food or drink, they still cannot regain this vitality, even if they do not require food or drink. As such, the monk will still retain the level of exhaustion.

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Support for ruling that the monk does recover from exhaustion.

I immediately think of these things in the large scale:
While there's ambiguity with creatures that get this ability ("This ability" referring to the mechanic of not needing to eat/drink, not specifically the Monk's "Timeless Body".) while still being able to eat/drink, you would also give this ability to a creature who thematically can't eat/drink, to mechanically denote the fact that they don't need to.

If the ability didn't allow the creature to recover exhaustion, any creature that doesn't (through regular means, or at all) eat or drink because they can't (Assuming they can still become exhausted, which is most creatures anyway) would be mechanically in the territory that if they go for a swift jog, they may as well keel over dead, because they physically can't rest it off.

Having large swathes of creature types be capable of simply dropping dead if they go for a brisk enough walk, let alone the arbitrary inability for their bodies to not be able to recover from moderate stress when they thematically should, is broken mechanics.

With the above considered, a creature that can't obtain sustenance from food is intrinsically capable of resting without eating. Of course it gets a bit blurrier when you have a creature type that can physically ingest food, and can, you know, taste things, drink a healing potion, and feel happy when they eat their mother's home-cooked pie, and generally possesses the appropriate biological faculties to do so, but doesn't rely on consuming things for continued survival.

Consider playability and Rules as Intended

I would say, though, that you can (and should), after discussion with players, say it works any particular way you like when getting the ability; and so for the sake of answering this question, I should do so in an 'attempting to define the official intent' way. In that sense, saying that the mechanic "This does not need to eat or drink" means that you do not need to eat or drink to do things that mechanically require you to do so, as I believe is required for the mechanics to make sense uniformly, including things that are except from eating under any circumstances, but to specifically say that "... however, if you can eat or drink, you need to eat and drink when you're mechanically required to, even if you don't need to eat or drink to survive."

It's thematically weird, and hurts verisimilitude, that you supposedly don't need food or water, yet you don't have even the basic level of sustenance required for your body to recover from having been out in the desert, or marching for a day. That doesn't really seem like 'not needing food', feels more like "I can't quite die from lack of food, but I sure can starve to the point of being incapacitated, physically incapable of getting up, and I'm too weak to recover no matter how long I spend.". That's by definition starving, (or dying of thirst), so at that point you may as well formally rule that Timeless Body just prevents you from straight-up dying of lack of sustenance, but not from having the lesser effects of it, because after all, aside from it's temperature and stress related functionality, Exhaustion is D&D's main way of mechanically simulating hunger - if you become unable to physically recover from Exhaustion because you can't eat, you are by definition suffering the effects of starvation.

Apply the Rule of Cool

That's that ability's special thing, why would you heap technicality and "but if you turn to page 137's text" on top of it? Depending on the DM and party's style, hunger is usually very abstracted in D&D, aside from special 'the party becomes trapped without food, thus learning of the value they've been taking for granted the whole time' (which sounds familiar). Since you're asking about how this should be ruled, I assume you've not dealt with it in the past, and so this is the first time that the monk is even getting to use the ability (they may not even realise they can go without food, if it's been a while since they've gotten it).
Why would you, in a situation where the ability to go without food, the character's special thing, can actually be useful, consider saying "... but actually no, because page {number} contradicts the mechanics statement on page {other number}. I think the designers of D&D intended that your new level 15 monk who is strong enough to sustain themselves with their very soul would starve if they ran out of food, and I think that is absolutely correct and we can't go against it. :) "

While I can't know what your intent with "have a party gain a level of exhaustion" is, I can only assume your plan to create an amazing game and story won't somehow be ruined by the fact that the players realise someone who has a niche thing that had never been useful before which suddenly becomes a really valuable tool that doesn't solve the situation, but allows them to get a minor spotlight in the situation. The fact that they can do that will be kept more in mind for future player strategizing, while making the character more memorable in the process. (In a natural way, that usually comes to every character in some form over the course of play.)

I think mechanically, thematically, and in a meta sense, not needing food means you don't need food.

But of course, if it makes the most sense between you and the players that the character in question is still weakened by lacking external sustenance, by all means. The book is only there to facilitate play, not to dictate what you can and can't do. Just don't decide it yourself and throw it at them, lest the player be let down not getting what they'd think the ability says they should, and because if these characters are in a long term campaign, you're making an equally long term decision about a major aspect of the character (even if it doesn't show up all that often) that can affect many future encounters you can't foresee, and you shouldn't just decide by yourself on a whim something that'll affect not just this, but potential future encounters, especially when it has to do with one of the characters, as opposed to external influence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ could you drop in an example of a creature that fits this part in your opening points? a creature who thematically can't eat/drink, to mechanically denote the fact that they don't need to . Welcome to RPGSE. The tour and the help center provide guidance on how to get the most from an SE site, which has a particular format. Have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 14 '19 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I tried to make the edit clean up your "burst of text" style because it was nigh unreadable. Also added some formatting for organization. Please review and edit again to make more clear. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 14 '19 at 13:41

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