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.