Energy deficit is characterised by high ghrelin levels, and low leptin and insulin levels and we suggest that this provides a metabolic signature sensed by the brain to increase motivated behaviour to obtain food. We believe that the hormonal profile of negative energy balance serves to increase the incentive salience (or the value) of a food reinforcer, which in turn leads to increased motivation to obtain this reinforcer. These processes are mediated by a number of alterations in the mesolimbic dopamine system which serves to increase dopamine availability in the forebrain during energy deficit. The currently available evidence suggests that changes in motivational state, rather than hedonic enjoyment of taste, are primarily affected by reduced energy availability. This review aims to clarify the term reward in the metabolic literature and promote more focused discussion in future studies.