How Do Competitive Eaters Hold So Much Food?
Whether competitive eating is really a sport is debatable. Regardless though of how it is viewed, it attracts a lot of attention. Some people are mesmerized by it, others are horrified and disgusted, but the competitions are popular and the crowds come to watch.
Eric "Badlands" Booker
Those who choose to participate in these eating contests are known as gurgitators. The ones that excel at stuffing the most food down their throats in the quickest time end up signing contracts with MLE or Major League Eating. Once under contract, these gurgitators are sponsored by large corporations and have the opportunity to win big money prizes. There is also the International Federation of Competitive Eating which supports global competitions.
One would think that these gustatory competitors would all be obese but this is usually not the case. In fact, excess abdominal fat is considered to be an obstacle to the expansion the stomach needs to hold all of that food. How do they manage to stay thin? There are several reasons possible.
Some speed eaters have conditioned their stomachs to stretch way beyond normal limits to hold abnormal amounts of food which they are able to purge themselves of when the contest is over, however most of the competitors state that they do not vomit. Some use laxatives to help move the mass through the system more quickly. According to Arnie "Chowhound" Chapman, a well known, now retired competitor, diarrhea is common for about 24 hours following an event. Others claim that they simply do not eat for several days after the competition, similar to a snake that has just eaten a big meal.
Arnie "Chowhound" Chapman
Tiny 105 pound Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas regularly competes in speed eating but stays very thin. She has been known to have eaten 11 pounds of cheesecake in as little as 9 minutes. Her secret to staying thin she says, is that she eats healthy food the rest of the time such as fish, rice and vegetables, and she performs aerobic exercise for up to 2 hours for at least 5 days a week.
Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas
HOW DO THEY PACK IT IN SO QUICKLY?
Competitive eaters actually stretch their stomachs over time by filling up on large quantities of bulky food such as cabbage or distending their stomachs with water. The water method can be very dangerous and is not advocated by the medical community because it can overload the organs and dilute the electrolytes to the point of coma or death. By repeatedly overloading their stomachs, they are able to overcome the normal gag reflex and the esophageal sphincter. The esophagus also stretches which allows larger portions of unchewed food to move to the stomach faster.
During an eating competition, there are techniques to gulping quickly without choking. Most gurgitators use water to dip the food in as a lubricant and to help wash it down quickly. They commonly break the food into pieces in order to cram more in their mouths. When the time is up, any food held in the contestant's mouth counts as food eaten, providing they swallow it. Vomiting will get the person immediately disqualified.
It is thought that eating very quickly without chewing much can fool the brain because the normal signals from the stomach are not sent. At least one competitor, Takeru Kobayashi, wiggles his body and jumps around as a technique for getting food to settle down more quickly.
DANGERS OF COMPETITIVE EATING
Even though there are medical personnel standing by at competitive events, there is a very real danger of choking. It is very easy for large chunks of food to become lodged in the throat whether it is being crammed in or coming back up.
It is possible for the esophagus or stomach to perforate from the excessive stretching. There is also the danger to the cardiovascular system from taking in such a huge amount of calories and fat in one sitting. Acid erosion to the esophagus and teeth is well known to occur after vomiting. Water toxicity is also a danger if the competitor is drinking a lot to stretch the stomach.
The AMA is also concerned about the long term effects of this occupation. Because the esophageal sphincter has been stretched, acid reflux can occur at any time. The stomach itself may lose its ability to contract and the person may develop gastroparesis.
Despite the danger, competitive eating is gaining ground and many people find it entertaining to watch. The International Federation for Competitive Eating warns against anyone trying it at home or attempting to train alone.