What Does “Eat Like A Bird” Mean? How To Use It

what does eat like a bird mean

There is an idiomatic expression for almost every situation that happens to us in life. The topic of feeding and eating does not escape from this reality. We can find several idioms related to eating or food.

The expression “Eat like a bird” means that a person eats very little food. You can use it to compare what several people ate and say that one of them ate very little or almost nothing. It is also an expression used to say that someone is greedy because of the small amount of food he or she eats.

“Eat like a bird” is a phrase that some people consider funny and harmless. But in other cases, others may consider it offensive. For this reason, we must understand it well to know when we could use it and when we could not. Our mission is to help you understand it a little more and to help you use it in the best possible way.

The Origin Of The Expression “Eat Like A Bird”

“Eat like a bird” is an expression that has a recent origin, according to the few sources we can find today. And like other idioms, it has several possible origins.

There are no verifiable sources for these origin stories. We can not say that one is true and the others are not. These are stories that help us to know and understand their meaning. They also help to build the relationship they may have with the phrase we are studying today.

Origin Related To Birds And Their Feeding

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This version of the origin of the phrase places its creation in the mid-1900s. This origin is not the one that presents more details or evidence.

People from that time started to use the phrase when they saw how little the birds ate. But, I must say that this is a mistaken impression that we will explain a little later.

A theory links “Eat like a bird” with another idiom that means the opposite. This opposite expression is “Eat like a horse.” People also use it to talk about the amount of food someone consumes. The phrase “Eat like a horse” dates back to the early 18th century. It is used to say that someone eats whatever is available and in huge quantities.

People have the misconception that birds eat very little. This idea is because they are small animals. And also because they peck at seeds or leaves in minimal quantities, or at least that is what people think.

Origin Of “Eat Like A Bird” In Written Form

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Some historians documented the first appearance of the expression. This first appearance of “Eat like a bird” in written form was in the middle of the 20th century.

This first appearance was in the work of an author named Barnaby Ross. The 1930 book was The Tragedy of X: Drury Lane’s Mystery. This book quoted today’s expression as follows: “She ate like a bird, slept little.”

Why Do Some People Say That We Use The Phrase “Eat Like A Bird” In The Wrong Way?

When we meet a person who is a manic eater or who eats very little food several times a day, we say, “Eat like a bird.” We are saying that he or she eats very little, but this is neither true nor correct.

The truth is that birds are one of the most important eaters in the animal kingdom. The birds are always eating lots of insects, flower nectar, and snacks from nature.

They are also eating food all day long, unlike us. The thing is that they don’t seem to eat a lot of quantities every time they snack on something. There are certain types of birds that eat insects every two seconds, can you imagine that?. They are eating all day long!

The amount of food that birds eat depends on their size. This is according to a study made by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Larger birds eat up to a quarter of their weight per day. Smaller birds eat almost half their weight per day, impressive.

One of the most interesting examples is the hummingbird. The hummingbird eats twice its weight per day, which helps it have enough energy to move its wings.

So, when you tell someone that “Eat like a bird,” you are telling him or her that he or she is a glutton. These facts about “Eat like a bird” are a nice anecdote of this phrase. But in reality, people only use it to say that someone eats little peculiarities of the language.

What Words And Expressions Could Be Synonyms And Antonyms For “Eat Like A Bird”?

In our analysis of the idiomatic expression “Eat like a bird,” we must also know other aspects. It will be useful for us to know which other words or phrases have a similar or different meaning.

It is very useful to know all the alternatives we have available to speak today. The understanding of idioms will help us to improve our communication with others. It is useful to know the formal words or expressions and also the non-formal popular idioms.

Synonyms For “Eat Like A Bird”

  • Eat: is to consume food.
  • Nip: means to bite or take a small part of something.
  • Gnaw: means to bite or chew.
  • Crop: means to cut or trim.
  • Munch: is another way of saying to chew or eat.
  • Peck: means to bite.
  • Snack: is a small amount of food.
  • Nosh on: means to snack or take small amounts of some food.

Antonyms Of “Eat Like A Bird”

  • Gorge: means to eat something with a big appetite.
  • Devour: means to swallow.
  • Overeat: to eat something in excess.
  • Satiate: to fill oneself with food.
  • Gobble: to eat big amounts of food.
  • Feed: to feed, to increase.
  • Cram: to fill something to the brim.
  • Gormandize: to be very voracious.

How People Use The Phrase “Eat Like A Bird”

Idioms have one main meaning, but that does not mean that it is the only one. The essence of the meaning of an idiom will always be the same. But it may be that people use the same phrase with certain changes in their communication.

Because of this reality, it is beneficial to know in which different ways we can use “Eat like a bird” without doing it. The key is making the listener understand what we want to express when we use this phrase.

When we learn a new expression, we should use it only when we understand it. We should understand and dominate the idiom. If we do it wrong, the other person will notice it immediately, and the message will not have arrived. Let’s review some of the uses of “Eat like a bird.”

To Criticize Another Person

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  1. We use this phrase to imply that someone is greedy because they serve very small portions of food.
  2. We used to speculate that someone was very thin because they ate very little food.
  3. To criticize someone because he eats too little.
  4. To ask someone if he/she is on a diet when you see the portions he/she eats
  5. To criticize someone who eats little and does not lose weight

To Express A Desire For Change

  1. People use it when they want to pretend that they eat little, but the reality is the opposite.
  2. When a person wants to say that they would like to eat more
  3. Used to reinforce the belief that women eat too little to be slim
  4. When someone goes out of their regular eating routine to consume large portions of food
  5. When at a party, someone says that there is not enough food for everyone unless someone eats too little
  6. When eating little is a goal for the person who wants to lose weight

To Give Advice To Other People

  1. To say that when we are outdoors, even people who eat very little have an appetite.
  2. When you want to emphasize that to have a good body, you have to eat very little.
  3. To tell another person that if he/she continues to eat so little, he/she may get sick.

Examples Of The Use Of The Phrase “Eat Like A Bird” In Everyday Sentences

We are ready to take action and put into practice this new idiomatic expression we learned today. 

And if we still have some doubts, let’s review some examples, and we’ll be ready to start conversing.

  • Last week my girlfriend “eats like a bird” because she wants to be in shape for our vacation.
  • No wonder your sister is weak if she “eats like a bird.”
  • I stopped eating all those fats and everything that was hurting me, and now I eat like a bird.

A Final Thought On “Eat Like A Bird”

We have learned to use “Eat like a bird” as an idiom to say that someone eats very little. It is a phrase that we analyze from all possible angles, and it gives us to put it into practice in our day-to-day life.

But as can happen with any popular phrase, we have to know when and with whom to use it. Remember, this phrase contains a criticism in its meaning. That is why we must be careful not to offend someone if we use it in the wrong way.

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By Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.