What does It Mean When Your "Eyes are Bigger Than Your Stomach"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The saying “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” is used to chastise people who appear to be taking more food than they can possibly eat. People may also use this phrase in retrospect, indicating that they took more food than they needed, resulting in waste. Since many cultures have an aversion to wasting food, some version of this slang term is present in many languages, as a reminder to people that they should think carefully before portioning out food, to ensure that they only take as much as they need.

Buffets offer more food than diners can eat.
Buffets offer more food than diners can eat.

Obviously, one's eyes are not literally bigger than the stomach. The idea is that because someone is hungry, he or she overestimates his or her stomach capacity, taking more food than can be eaten comfortably. This can also happen when someone is confronted with extremely rich food; it may seem possible to eat a large portion until the diner actually bites in and realizes that the food is very filling.

A stomach ache may occur when someone takes more food than can be comfortably eaten.
A stomach ache may occur when someone takes more food than can be comfortably eaten.

Often, your eyes are bigger than your stomach when you are extremely hungry, or when food looks particularly good. Especially when confronted with a buffet line or invited to serve oneself, it can be tempting to take a heaping portion, rather than to take a moderate portion and go back for seconds if it seems necessary. After a long day or hard exercise, it is common for people to not invest a lot of thought in how much food they take.

The phrase "your eyes are bigger than your stomach" is often used to reprimand people for wasting food.
The phrase "your eyes are bigger than your stomach" is often used to reprimand people for wasting food.

One way to address this common problem is to pledge to take a small portion and rest before taking seconds. Sometimes it takes a few minutes to realize that you have eaten your fill, and if you've already gone for seconds, you will waste the plate of fresh food. Taking small portions and savoring the time between the first and second helpings can also allow people to appreciate their food more fully.

Overindulging in food can lead to weight gain and other unhealthy behaviors.
Overindulging in food can lead to weight gain and other unhealthy behaviors.

If your eyes are bigger than your stomach on a regular basis, you might also want to try tricking your eyes. For example, you can use smaller plates, which will allow you to fill the plate entirely but still end up with a smaller portion. It is also possible to use divided plates which can be used to measure out portions; many nutrition stores sell such plates, often with recommended portion sizes for various foods printed right on them.

Chewing ice can help ease a stomach ache.
Chewing ice can help ease a stomach ache.

If you know that you often take too much food after particular activities, it can also help to eat a small snack before eating, to take the edge off your hunger. A handful of something rich in protein like nuts can be ideal for a pre-meal snack.

A buffet may tempt people to overindulge on food.
A buffet may tempt people to overindulge on food.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I am particularly a little overweight. I need a diet but I can't take it. I try very very hard to remember. And my great role model, my sister is on the track team and she eats very healthy. She eats her oatmeal every day in the morning with prunes and almonds, eats her dozen eggs, and of course since she eats a dozen eggs, she drinks lots of water.

I wish I could have a great body like her. I'm trying to. But I don't know. With all these foods I see, it's hard to choose. My life will be a pain if I get even more overweight and older. I will look like a big humongous round blueberry. Please someone help me. I have read all the comments and please, I'm depending on you and my life. Thank you. I really do care.


Yes, there is a saying that the same meaning in my country, China. "Yan da du xiao" (means eye big, belly small). What interesting thing it is! I think even different countries have a few similar cultures.


Sneakers41-I know what you mean; I almost always used to eat everything on my plate. What I do now is use smaller plates to trick myself into thinking that I am eating larger portions because if you use a smaller plate the portions instantly look larger.

Also, I tell my children to eat until they are satisfied and throw away what they did not want.

This way they satisfy their hunger naturally and won’t develop a weight problem. Both my kids are normal weight for their age and they get plenty of exercise daily.

I think you have to be careful if you have a tendency to overeat and you have kids because they will pick up the same habits that you have and will then develop a weight problem as well.


Cafe41-Wow I did not know that. I think the thing to remember too is that most restaurants serving sizes are about double or triple of what you are supposed to have.

If you get in the habit of asking for a carton so that you can separate half of the meal off your plate and take the rest home you will be able to control your weight and eat considerably less.

But if you are in the clean plate club, then you are in trouble.


SauteePan- I know what you mean. I think that when most people see a buffet there is something psychological that says that they have to eat more because they paid for the food.

The piles of food that I have seen on people’s plates in some of these buffets are astounding.

I think that if buffets had to be labeled with the calories and overall nutritional information I wonder how many people would still overeat.

I remember on a recent trip to New York City, I went to a restaurant that listed all of the calories for every item on the menu.

I could not believe that a Cobb salad had 875 calories. It was eye opening. If I would have ordered a typical lunch there, it would have been about 1,800 calories.

I had a small appetizer so for me it did affect what I ordered. I know that people will ignore the caloric labels just as smokers ignore the warning labels on cigarettes, but it really makes you think twice about what you are going to order.


Laluna- That happens to me too but I try not to go too long without eating. Often when I overeat because, “My eyes are bigger than my stomach” I usually feel horrible.

I feel tired and I don’t want to do anything. I also feel a bit of guilt because I overate. This is really how people start to develop weight problems because they eat in this fashion with more frequency.

Some people go to buffets and eat a whole days worth of calories in one sitting. An additional 3,500 calories is all you need to gain a pound.

So you can see that if you ate your daily allotment in calories in one meal more than likely you will exceed your daily caloric intake for the week.

When I see a buffet, I first scan it to see what I really want to eat and then get small portions of it. I also only try to go up a second time for a dessert that I take a few bites and leave. That is how I control myself at a buffet.


My eyes are bigger than my stomach when I do not eat for a while and it seems that I could eat everything in sight. I have learned that having a little snack in between meals will help "shrink those big eyes".

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