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 an activity in which participants compete against each other to eat large quantities of food, usually in a short time period. Contests are typically eight to ten minutes long, although some competitions can last up to thirty minutes, 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.


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

The first recorded pie eating contest took place in Toronto in 1878. It was organised as a charity fundraising event and won by Albert Piddington. It is not known how many pies were consumed. The prize was a “Handsomely Bound Book”.[1] Following this, eating contests – particularly those involving pie – became popular across Canada and the United States, traditionally at county fairs.

There are some notable examples of early eating contestants, such as Joe McCarthy, who consumed 31 pies in a competition held at Charles Tanby’s Saloon in 1897.[1] Frank Dotzler is also noteworthy after consuming “275 oysters, 8 & 1/8th pounds of steak, 12 rolls, and 3 large pies, all washed down with 11 cups of coffee” at an event organised by the Manhattan Fat Men’s Club in 1909.[2]

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 every year since 1916 at Coney Island. While the origins are debated, it is believed to have begun as a result of four immigrants who tried to eat as many hot dogs as possible to show off their patriotism.[3] In 2010, however, promoter Matz admitted to having fabricated the legend of the 1916 start date with a man named Max Rosey in the early 1970s as part of a publicity stunt.[4] The legend grew over the years, to the point where The New York Times and other publications were known to have repeatedly listed 1916 as the inaugural year, although no evidence of the contest exists.[4] As Coney Island is often linked with recreational activities of the summer season, several early contests were held on other holidays associated with summer besides Independence Day; Memorial Day contests were scheduled for 1972,[5] 1975,[6] and 1978,[7] and a second 1972 event was held on Labor Day.[8]

The organisation of Major League Eating (MLE) in 1997 was also a key development in the increasing popularity.[9] The organisation is responsible for between 70 and 80 eating contests per year across North America, most notably Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which has aired on ESPN since 2003.[10] 

The most successful male competitor is Joey Chestnut, who has won a total fourteen times since 2007. He is the current champion as of 2021. Chestnut also holds the record for most hot dogs consumed in the contest, with 76 in 2021.[11] The second most successful is Takeru Kobayashi, who won six consecutive titles from 2001 to 2006.[12] Both men hold multiple world records relating to eating, with Kobayashi holding 5,[13] and Chestnut 14.[14]

In 2011, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest introduced a female only tournament. The most successful competitor in this contest is Miki Sudo, with seven consecutive wins since 2014.[15] She is the reigning female champion as of 2020 and also holds the record for most hot dogs eaten by a female contestant, with 48.5.[16] She currently holds 3 world records.[17]


All Pro Eating[edit]

All Pro Eating Competitive Eaters include Molly Schuyler, Eric "Silo" Dahl, Jamie "The Bear" McDonald and Stephanie "Xanadu" Torres (deceased).[18][19]


The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) hosts nearly 50 "Major League Eating" events[20] across North America every year.

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 getting the item for free, a T-shirt and the addition of their name and/or photo on a wall of challenge victors. For example, Ward's House of Prime located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has a prime rib meat challenge. The current record is 360 ounces by Molly Schuyler in June 2017. 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,[21] pies, pancakes, chicken wings, asparagus, pizza, ribs, whole turkeys, among many other types of food. Foods can reflect local cultures, such as vegan hot dogs in Austin, Texas.[22]

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".[23] 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, 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 number of times competitors are allowed to dunk food.

Competitors are required to maintain a relatively clean eating surface throughout the contest. Excess debris after the contest results 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.[24] Perhaps paradoxically, maintaining a low body fat percentage is thought to be helpful in competitive eating; this is known as the belt of fat theory.

For a marquee event like the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, some eaters, like current contest champion Joey Chestnut, will begin training several months before the event with personal time trials using the contest food.[25] 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.[26] Due to the risks involved with training alone or without emergency medical supervision, the IFOCE actively discourages training of any sort.[27]

Televised contests[edit]

Criticisms and dangers[edit]


One criticism of competitive eating is the message that the gluttonous sport sends as obesity levels rise among Americans,[29] and the example it sets for youth.[30] Actor Ryan Reynolds contended in an editorial in The Huffington Post that competitive eating is another example of Western gluttony at a time when so many others around the world are starving.[31] In the same article, retired competitive eater Don "Moses" Lerman mentioned some of the dangers of competitive eating when he said he would "stretch my stomach until it causes internal bleeding."


Negative health effects of competitive eating include delayed stomach emptying, aspiration pneumonia, perforation of the stomach, Boerhaave syndrome, and obesity.[32]

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 caused by diluted electrolytes in the blood.[33] Long term effects of delayed stomach emptying include chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting.[34]

Discomfort following an event is common with nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea.[35] People may also use laxatives or force themselves to vomit following the event, with associated risks.[35]


Most deaths have occurred from choking.[35]

  • In October 2012, a 32-year-old man died while competitively eating live roaches and worms. An autopsy revealed he choked to death.[36]
  • In July 2013, a 64-year-old Australian man, Bruce Holland, died in a pie eating contest.[37][38][39]
  • On July 4, 2014, a 47-year-old competitive eater choked to death during a hot dog eating contest.[40]
  • At a Sacred Heart University event on April 2, 2017, a 20-year-old female student died as a result of a pancake eating contest.[41] She died by choking.[42]
  • On August 13, 2019, a 41-year-old man choked to death after competing in an amateur taco eating competition at a Fresno Grizzlies baseball game.[43][44]
  • On January 26, 2020, a woman died in Hervey Bay, Queensland in a lamington-eating contest on Australia Day.[45][46][47][48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Roundtable | Pie Fight". Lapham’s Quarterly. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  2. ^ Johnson, Adrienne Rose (August 1, 2016). "The Art of Competitive Eating". Gastronomica. 16 (3): 111–114. doi:10.1525/gfc.2016.16.3.111. ISSN 1529-3262.
  3. ^ Suddath, Claire (July 3, 2008). Time. ISSN 0040-781X,8599,1820052,00.html. Retrieved November 26, 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ a b "No, He Did Not Invent the Publicity Stunt" by Sam Roberts, New York Times, August 18, 2010". The New York Times. August 18, 2010.
  5. ^ Robert D. McFadden (May 28, 1972). "Yesterday Was for Traveling, Strolling, Eating and Relaxing". New York Times.
  6. ^ Howard Thompson (May 26, 1975). "Going Out Guide". New York Times (p. 6).
  7. ^ "Two share prize". Ellensburg (Wash.) Daily Record (p. 11). May 31, 1978.
  8. ^ "105-Pound Girl Eats 12 Hot Dogs to Win Contest". St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press (sec. A, p. 2). September 3, 1972.
  9. ^ "About us". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  10. ^ "The Rise of Major League Eating, America's New Favorite Pastime". Grandstand Central. July 25, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  11. ^ "Joey Chestnut Sets New Record With 13th Hot Dog Eating Contest Win". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Belson, Ken (July 5, 2007). "The Winner and New Champion, With 66 Hot Dogs (Published 2007)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  13. ^ "World Record Holders and Breakers - Takeru Kobayashi". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  14. ^ "World Record Holders and Breakers - Joey Chestnut". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  15. ^ Desk, Sport. "Miki Sudo sets women's record, wins seventh Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest | ESPN". The Global Herald. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  16. ^ "Hot Dog Eating Contest Hall of Fame | Nathan's Famous". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  17. ^ "Miki Sudo's RecordSetter World Record Profile". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  18. ^ "All Pro Eating Promotions". Retrieved February 6, 2017.
  19. ^ "'A little powerhouse:' Eaters remember Torres". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  20. ^ "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  21. ^ "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  22. ^ "Scenes from a Vegan hot dog eating contest". Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  23. ^ Force Fed Creative Loafing blog May 9, 2007. Retrieved on June 30, 2009.
  24. ^ Eating champs to chow down at Everett wingding by Brian Alexander
  25. ^ Dworkin, Andy. "Champion competitive eater shares his training, victory" The Oregonian online. July 15, 2008. Retrieved on June 28, 2009.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  28. ^ Roberts, Sam (August 18, 2010). "Mortimer Matz, Press Agent Extraordinaire". The New York Times.
  29. ^ "Some find competitive eating hard to swallow." NBC News. November 21, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009
  30. ^ Vasel, Kathryn. "Competitive Eating Contests Bring in the Dough Archived 2010-01-25 at the Wayback Machine." January 31, 2008. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  31. ^ Reynolds, Ryan. "Competitive Eating." June 6, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  32. ^ Lim, TZ; Rajaguru, K; Lee, CL (June 2018). "The Perils of Competitive Speed Eating!". Gastroenterology. 154 (8): 2030–2032. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2017.08.060. PMID 28870531.
  33. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  34. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  35. ^ a b c Albala, Ken (2015). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues. SAGE Publications. p. 275. ISBN 9781506317304.
  36. ^ "Man Choked to Death After Roach-Eating Contest". November 27, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  37. ^ "Man dies during pie eating contest". The Guardian. July 18, 2013.
  38. ^ "Australian man dies during pub pie-eating competition". The Daily Telegraph.
  39. ^ "Australian man dies after eating chilli pie in pub pie eating contest". The Independent. July 19, 2013.
  40. ^ "Man Dies at South Dakota Hot Dog Eating Contest". The New York Times. July 7, 2014. Retrieved July 7, 2014.
  41. ^ "University Mourns Sorority Sister Who Died As A Result Of A Pancake-eating Contest".
  42. ^ Swerdloff, Alex (April 4, 2017). "Eating Competitions Killed Two People This Past Weekend". Vice. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  43. ^ "Fresno man dies after competing in taco eating contest at Grizzlies baseball game". Fresno Bee. 2019. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
  44. ^ "Man dies after taco-eating contest in California". The Guardian. August 15, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  45. ^ "Woman chokes to death during cake eating competition, witness says she "shoveled the lamington into her mouth with no restraint"". Newsweek. January 26, 2020.
  46. ^ "Video emerges from fatal Aus Day contest". January 26, 2020.
  47. ^ "Woman dies during Australia Day lamington-eating competition". adelaidenow. January 26, 2020.
  48. ^ "Subscribe to The Chronicle".

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]