Bitter melon (Momordica charantia; BM) has been shown to ameliorate diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance. To examine the effect of BM supplementation on cell size and lipid metabolism in adipose tissues, three groups of rats were respectively fed a high-fat diet supplemented without (HF group) or with 5 % lyophilised BM powder (HFB group), or with 0·01 % thiazolidinedione (TZD) (HFT group). A group of rats fed a low-fat diet was also included as a normal control. Hyperinsulinaemia and glucose intolerance were observed in the HF group but not in HFT and HFB groups. Although the number of large adipocytes (>180 μm) of both the HFB and HFT groups was significantly lower than that of the HF group, the adipose tissue mass, TAG content and glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase activity of the HFB group were significantly lower than those of the HFT group, implying that BM might reduce lipogenesis in adipose tissue. Experiment 2 was then conducted to examine the expression of lipogenic genes in adipose tissues of rats fed low-fat, HF or HFB diets. The HFB group showed significantly lower mRNA levels of fatty acid synthase, acetyl-CoA carboxylase-1, lipoprotein lipase and adipocyte fatty acid-binding protein than the HF group (P < 0·05). These results indicate BM can reduce insulin resistance as effective as the anti-diabetic drug TZD. Furthermore, BM can suppress the visceral fat accumulation and inhibit adipocyte hypertrophy, which may be associated with markedly down regulated expressions of lipogenic genes in the adipose.