Dysregulation of nutrient homeostasis is implicated in the current epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. The maintenance of homeostasis in the setting of repeated cycles of feeding and fasting occurs through complex interactions between metabolic, hormonal and neural factors. Although pancreatic islets, the liver, muscle, adipocytes and the central nervous system are all key players in this network, the gastrointestinal tract is the first tissue exposed to ingested nutrients and thus has an important role. This Review focuses on several of the endocrine hormones released by the gastrointestinal tract prior to or during nutrient ingestion that have key roles in maintaining energy balance. These hormones include the gastric orexigenic hormone, ghrelin, and the distal L cell anorexigenic and metabolic hormones, glucagon-like peptide (GLP)-1, GLP-2, oxyntomodulin and peptide YY. Each of these hormones exerts a distinct set of biological actions to maintain nutrient homeostasis, the properties of which are currently, or might soon be, exploited in the clinic for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus.