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Eat to Win: The Weird World of Competitive Eating

The obvious question would be, why do people go to these extremes to win notoriety and reasonable cash rewards? The answer is not because they are very hungry. Most likely, like anything else that comes with a bit of fame, competitive eating holds a certain rarified appeal for these eaters who have to diligently train and endure in order to successfully compete (it is not just a matter of having a large appetite and a bottomless stomach). Competitors must drown out the SOS calls from their stomachs and suppress their natural gag reflex in order to keep shoveling in the ice cream, pasta, and oysters. Plainly speaking, competitive eating is hardly the most healthy or beneficial competitive sport to undertake (this is not the swim team). There exists a very real risk of choking or damaging the stomach by filling it well beyond its natural holding potential. Some competitors, knowing full well that walking around with 65 eggs in their stomach is not at all healthy, choose not to digest what they eat at an event. Instead they elect to purge the food by vomiting after the judging has been finalized. And as we know from research on bulimia, stomach acids from frequent vomiting can greatly damage the esophagus as well as tooth enamel.

For those of us that don’t count ourselves as fans, nor participants, in these sort of competitive eating events, but consider ourselves as health conscious and healthy eaters, the practice of competitive eating baffles and disgusts. Why, in a world of epidemic obesity as well as starvation and malnutrition, do people engage in this sort of competition and entertainment? Is it just sport, or is it some sort of grotesque and bizarre commentary on humankind’s fraught relationship with food? It is hard to be entirely damning of such a diversion, but it is nearly impossible to be at all supportive of it either.

Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Fitness, Following Food, Food, Health, , , , , , , , ,

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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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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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