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Eat to Win: The Weird World of Competitive Eating

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I recently just completed a three-week elimination diet that required me to, not only cut my consumption of the foods I love, but cut out a multitude of foods that I could possibly be sensitive to (wheat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, eggs, soy, etc). One thing that these diets do for me is making me tremendously more mindful about what, and how, I am eating. I am guilty of eating often and eating mindlessly, but not to excess. However, for a portion of the population eating excessive amounts of food is not only appealing, but also intensely sporting.

I am talking about competitive eating. Unlike competitive cooking (think Top Chef and the dwindling array of other reality-based cooking shows), competitive eating is about eating as much as humanly possible in the shortest time possible. This sort of eating consists of everything from hot dogs to bowls of mayonnaise, and many people (the world over) treat it as a serious sport, as well as a discipline. One of most notable competitions occurs annually every July 4th at Nathan’s Hot Dog in Coney Island (considered the Super Bowl of competitive eating), and contestants are goaded on by thousands of cheering fans to eat upwards of 50 hot dogs (including buns) in under ten minutes. Unlike the highly entertaining pie eating contests that have entertained state fair attendees over the last few decades, these contests (highly regulated by the International Federation of Competitive Eating) are serious, if not grossly entertaining, competitive events.

Even though the United States is now seen as the world’s most excessive and obese nation, it would be wrong to assume that these events are purely American folly. Events are held worldwide and contestants come from all over the world to sit and stuff their faces. It would also be wrong to assume that all of the most successful competitive eaters are large, stocky, men well versed in a gluttonous lifestyle. Some of the most successful competitive eaters (also known as “gurgitators”) hardly fit this bill. Takeru Kobayashi, a slight Japanese man, had been the longtime reigning champion of the Nathan’s hot dog eating competition, and is well regarded for his ability to consume massive amounts of nearly anything, including nearly 18 lbs of cow brains he consumed in roughly 15 minutes. Then there is the 100 lb Korean-American Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas who is also a top contender and known for eating 65 hard-boiled eggs in under 7 minutes.

Hong Kong competitive eating outfit, “The EatCredibles” doing what they do best.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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7:20PM PDT on May 14, 2011

what a waste!

5:00PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

Never understood competitive eating, I think it´s just stupid.

5:28AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

I cannot imagine myself taking part of that contest. We shouldn't promote wasting the food like taht, since so much of fit is wasted anyway. And somewhere else people are starving. It's dangerous to contestants health too. And just plain gross and stupid.

5:01PM PST on Feb 21, 2011

Um.... that's just gross. Seriously. Especially the butter, mayo and the pickled tongue... Ew.

9:52AM PST on Feb 20, 2011

I am not sure why anyone would want to gorge themselves at one sitting to win a trophy that says basically... I am truly a glutton for food and probably that is why I weigh 300 lbs.. I don't get it.
Sit and eat for a cause.. ie donating money to charity or something that is worth it.. and has a fun event tied in.. ok- I see it. but to be Mz or Mr. hot dog glutton of 2011.. omg.. ( gagging thinking about it.. ) no self worth. YUK!

3:42AM PST on Feb 20, 2011

I find it disgusting. It promotes over-indulgence. Anyone who watches this kind of drivel is seriously lacking meaningful things to do.

8:57PM PST on Feb 19, 2011

thanks for sharing.

11:17PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

To anyone who finds "competitive eating" an interesting, entertaining spectator sport, I could only say, "MY GOD! get a life, and get some freakin class." Boring, disgusting, nauseating, pointless. YECCCCCH.

9:54PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

In this day of lack of job opportunities, if you can make a living in competitive eating, then, well, a job is a job.... No more dangerous than a lot of other jobs like driving sports cars, etc.

2:03PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

Simultaneously entertaining and nauseating to watch. Don't really see how it qualifies as a sport though. How about donating some of that food to food banks?

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