Obesity, a major risk factor for the development of diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer, arises from a chronic positive energy balance that is often due to unlimited access to food and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle on the background of a genetic and epigenetic vulnerability. Our understanding of the humoral and neuronal systems that mediate the control of energy homeostasis has improved dramatically in the past few decades. However, our ability to develop effective strategies to slow the current epidemic of obesity has been hampered, largely owing to the limited knowledge of the mechanisms underlying resistance to the action of metabolic hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. The development of resistance to leptin and ghrelin, hormones that are crucial for the neuroendocrine control of energy homeostasis, is a hallmark of obesity. Intensive research over the past several years has yielded tremendous progress in our understanding of the cellular pathways that disrupt the action of leptin and ghrelin. In this Review, we discuss the molecular mechanisms underpinning resistance to leptin and ghrelin and how they can be exploited as targets for pharmacological management of obesity.