Competitive eating

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Sonya Thomas and Tim Janus at the 2005 Midway Slots Crabcake Eating Competition.

Competitive eating, or speed eating, is a sport in which participants compete against each other to consume large quantities of food in a short time period. Contests are typically eight to 10 minutes long, and usually less than 15 minutes in length, with the person consuming the most food being declared the winner. Competitive eating is most popular in the United States, Canada, and Japan, where organized professional eating contests often offer prizes, including cash. Competitive eaters are sometimes known as "gurgitators," a word coined by Major League Eating.


Pie-eating contest at the Jefferson School in Washington, DC, August 2, 1923.

Traditionally, eating contests, often involving pies, were events at county fairs. The recent surge in the popularity of competitive eating is due in large part to the development of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual holiday tradition that has been held on July 4 virtually every year since the 1970s at Coney Island. The event generates enormous media attention and has been aired on ESPN for the past eight years, contributing to the growth of the competitive eating phenomenon. Recently, this contest has been dominated by Joey Chestnut of the IFOCE, who has been victorious for six straight years. Prior to that, eater Takeru Kobayashi, won it consistently from 2001 through 2006. He was dethroned in 2007 by Joey Chestnut. In 2008, Chestnut and Kobayashi tied at 59 hot dogs in 10 minutes (the time span had previously been 12 minutes), and Chestnut won in an eatoff in which he was the first of the two competitors to finish eating 5 hot dogs in overtime, earning Chestnut his second consecutive title. Chestnut holds the world record of 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Kobayashi competed in non-sanctioned hot dog contests in 2011 and 2012 and claimed to have eaten 68 and 69. On August 5, 2006, Takeru Kobayashi won the Johnsonville World Bratwurst Eating Championship with 58 Bratwurst sausages in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Chestnut ate 41. On July 28, 2008, Chestnut lost to Takeru Kobayashi in Chicken Satay eating in the MLE Asia inaugural event. He consumed over 4 kilograms to Kobayashi's almost 5.5. On September 27, 2009, Kobayashi defeated Chestnut with a score of 93 Angus Burgers. Chestnut was second, with 81. On September 22, 2014, Joey Chestnut ate 70 bratwurst in 10 minutes in Cincinnati, OhioIFOCE Records. On September 28, 2014, Joey Chestnut ate 91 tamales in 10 minutes in Lewisville, TexasIFOCE Records. On October 5, 2014, Joey Chestnut ate 141 hard boiled eggs in eight minutes in Radcliff, KentuckyIFOCE Records.



The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) hosts nearly 50 "Major League Eating" events across North America every year. The IFOCE, which first established eating in the 1990s, developing the Nathan's Famous contest and eating circuit, recently launched Major League Eating to serve as an umbrella for competitive eating while also providing a recognized brand for licensing of T-shirts and other products. It features videos of contests and eaters and offers a complete and official records. Among the top eaters who compete only in Major League Eating events are Joey Chestnut, Sonya Thomas, Eater X, Notorious B.O.B., Badlands Booker, Matt Stonie, Miki Sudo and Crazy Legs Conti. MLE developed and conducts nearly all of the major eating events, including the Acme Oyster-Eating Contest, the National Buffalo Wing Contest, The Hooters World Wing-Eating Championship, among many others.

IFOCE has produced a three-hour elimination tournament on ESPN called the Alka-Seltzer U.S. Open of Competitive Eating, plus additional hours of ESPN programming on eating for Johnsonville Brats and Krystal hamburgers. The IFOCE also produced a series of 30-minute television shows, "Eats of Strength," for high-definition network InHD. Spike TV also ran a series of one-hour Major League Eating events, featuring the top eaters of the IFOCE, and the IFOCE produced a one-hour docudrama on the Acme World Oyster Eating Contest in New Orleans.


The Association of Independent Competitive Eaters (AICE), established by competitive eater Arnie "Chowhound" Chapman, also sanctions contests. Chapman was a former IFOCE member who defected to form an independent league after disputes over IFOCE contractual restrictions.[1]

AICE, which adopted the title All Pro Eating Promotions in 2008, differs from the IFOCE with its adherence to "picnic style" competitive eating rules in addition to being the most recognized competitive eating organization that allows independent competitive eaters to participate (independent competitive eaters are not under any contractual obligation). Picnic style rules pay "respect to the food and maintains the integrity and dignity and public reputation of that food item."[2] Under these rules, the league forbids the dunking of any contest foods in water, a practice used by many IFOCE eaters, and one believed to speed the chewing and swallowing process. All Pro Eating Promotions is the only competitive eating organization that provides sanctioned independent competitive eating events that specifically follow picnic style rules.

In 2009, competitive eater Coondog O'Karma joined Chapman as a partner, and took over as Director of Operations for AICE.[3] Arnie "Chowhound" Chapman retired from All Pro Eating Promotions in August, 2011 and Todd "The Hungry Genius" Greenwald took over the full role of Chairman of All Pro Eating Promotions / AICE.

In 2010, AICE was joined by new eaters, former IFOCE members "Jammin" Joe Larue, Chris "The Mad Greek" Abatsas and newcomer "Munchin" Mike Longo.

The year started off with the USquare National Eating Championship in Madison Wisconsin. Ian The Invader Hickman won with 102 ounces of food court food in 8 mins.

On June 5 in Rockville Centre, NY "Munchin" Mike Longo won the National Cheese Steak Eating Championship with 4.05 cheese steaks eating in 7 mins.

"Munchin" Mike Longo also won the Little Jimmy's National Italian Ice Eating Championship again beating AICE eating star Ian The Invader Hickman and legendary eater King George Van Laar, eating 4 lbs 1.25 ounces of Italian ice in 7 minutes.

In Middlebury. Connecticut The Caribbean Food Eating Championship took place where Joel The Cannon Podelsky won the National Bun and Cheese National Championship eating 40 ounces in 4 min and 43 sec. King George Van Laar won the National Beef Pattie Eating Championship eating 60oz of beef patties in 7 min 32 sec.

5th Annual American Meatball Eating Championship took place in Midlothian, Illinois. Bob “KILLER” Kuhns of Pittsburgh, PA took 1st with 36.5 meatballs in 7 minutes to win $1,000.

The 1st Annual Bobs Burgers Hamburger Eating Contest was located at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego, CA and was won by David Coondog O'Karma eating 14.5 hamburgers.

The World Hands Free Pumpkin Pie eating contest was held in Clarence, NY. The world record for pumpkin pie was broken by Chris "The Mad Greek" Abatsas. He ate 5.5 lbs in 8 mins, beating 2nd place "Jammin" Joe Larue who ate 4.6 lbs.

Other challenges[edit]

Other eating contests sponsored by restaurants can involve a challenge to eat large or extraordinarily spicy food items, including giant steaks, hamburgers and curries in a set amount of time. Those who finish the item are often rewarded by not having to pay for the item, or with a t-shirt and the addition of their name and/or photo on a wall of challenge victors. Various challenges of this type are featured in the Travel Channel show Man v. Food.

Notable competitive eaters[edit]

Contest structure[edit]


The type of food used in contests varies greatly, with each contest typically only using one type of food (e.g. a hot dog eating contest). Foods used in professional eating contests include hamburgers, hot dogs, pies, pancakes, chicken wings, asparagus, pizza, ribs, whole turkeys, among many other types of food. There is also a vegan hot dog eating competition held in Austin, Texas.[4]

Rules and overview of events[edit]

Competitive eating contests often adhere to an 8, 10, 12 or 15 minute time limit. Most contests are presided over by a master of ceremonies, whose job is to announce the competitors prior to the contest and keep the audience engaged throughout the contest with enthusiastic play-by-play commentary and amusing anecdotes. A countdown from 10 usually takes place at the end of the contest, with all eating coming to an end with the expiration of time.

Many professional contests also employ a series of judges, whose role is to enforce the contest rules and warn eaters about infractions. Judges will also be called upon to count or weigh each competitor's food and certify the results of the contest prior to the winner being announced.


Many eaters will attempt to put as much food in their mouths as possible during the final seconds of a contest, a practice known by professionals as "chipmunking."[5] If chipmunking is allowed in a contest, eaters are given a reasonable amount of time (typically less than two minutes) to swallow the food or risk a deduction from their final totals.


In many contests, except those adhering to "picnic style rules" mentioned previously, eaters are allowed to dunk foods in water or other liquids in order to soften the food and make it easier to chew and swallow. Dunking typically takes place with foods involving a bun or other doughy parts. Professional contests often enforce a limit on the amount of time competitors are allowed to dunk food.


Competitors are expected to maintain a relatively clean eating surface throughout the contest. Excess debris after the contest may result in a deduction from the eater's final totals.


If, at any point during or immediately after the contest, a competitor regurgitates any food, he or she will be disqualified. Vomiting, also known as a "reversal", or, as ESPN and the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest call it, a "reversal of fortune", includes obvious signs of vomiting as well as any small amounts of food that may fall from the mouth deemed by judges to have come from the stomach. Small amounts of food already in the mouth prior to swallowing are excluded from this rule.

Training and preparation[edit]

Many professional competitive eaters undergo rigorous personal training in order to increase their stomach capacity and eating speed with various foods. Stomach elasticity is usually considered the key to eating success, and competitors commonly train by drinking large amounts of water over a short time to stretch out the stomach. Others combine the consumption of water with large quantities of low calorie foods such as vegetables or salads. Some eaters chew large amounts of gum in order to build jaw strength.[6]

For a marquee event like the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, some eaters, like reigning contest champion Joey Chestnut, will begin training several months before the event with personal time trials using the contest food.[7] Retired competitive eater Ed "Cookie" Jarvis trained by consuming entire heads of boiled cabbage followed by drinking up to two gallons of water every day for two weeks before a contest.[8]

Due to the risks involved with training alone or without emergency medical supervision, the IFOCE actively discourages training of any sort.[9]

Televised contests[edit]

The annual Nathan's frankfurter event, which has been held every Fourth of July since the 1970s,[10] is televised live on ESPN from Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

The annual Krystal Square Off hamburger eating contest has been televised on ESPN and, in 2008, on the Root Sports South network.

In 2002, the Fox Network aired a two-hour competitive eating contest called the Glutton Bowl.

Spike TV has broadcast several IFOCE-sanctioned competitive eating competitions as part of its "MLE Chowdown" series, including the St. Patrick's Day Chowdown in 2007 (corned beef and cabbage), the "Turkey Bowl" on Thanksgiving day in 2007 (whole turkeys with an undercard cranberry sauce contest), "Wedges 'n Wings" in 2007 (chicken wings and potato wedges), and "Ham 'n Eggs" during Super Bowl halftime in 2008.

Criticisms and dangers[edit]


The chief criticism of competitive eating is the message the gluttonous sport sends as obesity levels rise among Americans[11] and the example it sets for youth.[1]

Others, like actor Ryan Reynolds in an editorial on The Huffington Post, contend that competitive eating is yet another example of Western gluttony at a time when so many others around the world are starving.[12] In the same article, retired competitive eater Don "Moses" Lerman foreshadows the dangers of competitive eating when he admits "I'll stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding."


The argument that competitive eating can cause weight gain,[13] which may lead to obesity and elevated cholesterol and blood pressure is common. The potential damage that competitive eating can cause to the human digestive system was the subject of a 2007 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The study observed professional eater Tim Janus, who ate 36 hot dogs in 10 minutes before doctors intervened. It was concluded that through training, Janus' stomach failed to have normal muscle contractions called peristalsis, a function which transfers food from the stomach down the digestive tract.[14]

Other medical professionals contend that binge eating can cause stomach perforations in those with ulcers and gulping large quantities of water during training can lead to water intoxication, a condition which dilutes electrolytes in the blood.[15] Gastroparesis, also known as stomach paralysis, is also a concern among those who routinely stretch their stomachs beyond capacity. The condition may lead to the stomach's inability to contract and lose its ability to empty itself. Side effects of gastroparesis include chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting.[16]

In October 2012, a 32 year old man, died while competitively eating live roaches and worms in a contest to win a ball python. An autopsy revealed he choked to death.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vasel, Kathryn. "Competitive Eating Contests Bring in the Dough." January 31, 2008. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  2. ^ AICE Official Website
  3. ^ AICE Official Website
  4. ^ "Scenes from a Vegan hot dog eating contest". Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Force Fed Creative Loafing blog May 9, 2007. Retrieved on June 30, 2009.
  6. ^ Eating champs to chow down at Everett wingding by Brian Alexander
  7. ^ Dworkin, Andy. "Champion competitive eater shares his training, victory" The Oregonian online. July 15, 2008. Retrieved on June 28, 2009.
  8. ^ Gullapalli, Diya. "You Have to Be in Good Shape To Eat 4.21 Hot Dogs a Minute" The Wall Street Journal. August 15, 2002. Retrieved on June 28, 2007.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Some find competitive eating hard to swallow." November 21, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  12. ^ Reynolds, Ryan. "Competitive Eating." June 6, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  13. ^ Burbach, Cherie. "Health Risks of Speed Eating." July 3, 2009. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  14. ^ Park, Madison. "Speed eaters gain weight, clog arteries but have few regrets." July 3, 2009. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  15. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  16. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  17. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Eat This Book (2006)
  • Horsemen of the Esophagus (2006)
  • A Short History of the American Stomach (2008, Frederick Kaufman)
  • Clemens Berger: Die Wettesser. Roman, Skarabäus 2007 (The Competitive Eaters. A Novel)

External links[edit]