Does exercise promote weight loss? One of the key problems with studies assessing the efficacy of exercise as a method of weight management and obesity is that mean data are presented and the individual variability in response is overlooked. Recent data have highlighted the need to demonstrate and characterise the individual variability in response to exercise. Do people who exercise compensate for the increase in energy expenditure via compensatory increases in hunger and food intake? The authors address the physiological, psychological and behavioural factors potentially involved in the relationship between exercise and appetite, and identify the research questions that remain unanswered. A negative consequence of the phenomena of individual variability and compensatory responses has been the focus on those who lose little weight in response to exercise; this has been used unreasonably as evidence to suggest that exercise is a futile method of controlling weight and managing obesity. Most of the evidence suggests that exercise is useful for improving body composition and health. For example, when exercise-induced mean weight loss is <1.0 kg, significant improvements in aerobic capacity (+6.3 ml/kg/min), systolic (-6.00 mm Hg) and diastolic (-3.9 mm Hg) blood pressure, waist circumference (-3.7 cm) and positive mood still occur. However, people will vary in their responses to exercise; understanding and characterising this variability will help tailor weight loss strategies to suit individuals.