Obesity develops when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. Although most current obesity therapies are focused on reducing calorific intake, recent data suggest that increasing cellular energy expenditure (bioenergetics) may be an attractive alternative approach. This is especially true for adaptive thermogenesis - the physiological process whereby energy is dissipated in mitochondria of brown fat and skeletal muscle in the form of heat in response to external stimuli. There have been significant recent advances in identifying the factors that control the development and function of these tissues, and in techniques to measure brown fat in human adults. In this article, we integrate these developments in relation to the classical understandings of cellular bioenergetics to explore the potential for developing novel anti-obesity therapies that target cellular energy expenditure.