What is the origin of your eyes are bigger than your stomach? Does it only refer to taking more food than you can eat?

Online dictionaries such as Webster's and Wiktionary define the phrase, but don't offer any information about its origin. They also don't say anything about using the phrase in broader applications, similar to how bite off more than one can chew is rarely used in a food context.

  • Yes, that's what it means; for origins, the metaphor seems fairly straightforward. A dictionary could provide more color. – Dan Bron Nov 6 '17 at 18:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

This phrase might be older (I know some similar Danish from 14th c), but have it's full form in Montaigne's essay Of the Cannibals (c. 1580, first translation to English in 1603) and here used metaphorically about other things than food:

"I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies, and that we have more curiosity than capacity; for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but wind."

The meaning is also evident in Lyly's The Anatomy of Wit (from the same year 1578/1580, p. 311 in Arbers 1868-edition):

"But thou art like the Epicure, whose belly is sooner filled than his eye".

For some reason, the synonym "belly" is specifically used in this phrase, i.e. "your eyes are bigger than your belly" in other words, something was so delicious you took a large portion, but couldn't eat it all.

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