In growing male obese Zucker rats, hyperphagia reaches a maximum or "breakpoint" and declines at an earlier age with high fat than with chow-type diets. A serial adipose tissue biopsy technique was used to correlate changes of retroperitoneal adipocyte size and feeding behavior in 5- to 7-wk-old male lean and obese rats fed laboratory chow or a 35% fat diet until 30 wk of age. Although chow-fed groups had significantly greater cumulative intake, fat-fed groups had significantly greater body weight gain, retroperitoneal depot weight, and adipocyte number. Mean adipocyte size increased continuously in chow-fed groups but decreased over weeks 20-30 in fat-fed groups, reflecting increased adipocyte number. In fat-fed obese rats, hyperphagia reached a breakpoint at 11 wk and disappeared by 13 wk. In chow-fed obese rats, hyperphagia reached a breakpoint at 15-16 wk and disappeared by 19 wk. Biopsy samples revealed that adipocyte size of fat-fed obese rats was already close to maximal at 10 wk (1.12 micrograms lipid), while that of chow-fed obese rats only approached maximal at 20 wk (0.81 microgram lipid). At these time points, lipoprotein lipase activity paralleled adipocyte size. These data indicate that the duration of the growing obese rat's hyperphagia coincides with adipocyte filling and suggest the existence of feeding stimulatory and inhibitory signals from adipose tissue.