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

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 every year since 1916 at Coney Island.[1] In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi ate 50 hot dogs – smashing the previous record (25.5). 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. Kobayashi won the competition every year from 2001 until 2006 but 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 eat-off in which he was the first of the two competitors to finish eating 5 hot dogs, earning him a second consecutive title. Kobayashi holds six Guinness World Records, for eating hot dogs, meatballs, Twinkies, hamburgers, and pizza. He competed in hot dog contests in 2011 and 2012 and claimed to have eaten 68 and 69. The current champion is Chestnut, with a total of 75 hot dogs and buns eaten on July 4, 2020.


All Pro Eating[edit]

All Pro Eating Competitive Eaters include Molly Schuyler, Eric "Silo" Dahl, Jamie "The Bear" McDonald and Stephanie "Xanadu" Torres (who died).[2][3]


The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) hosts nearly 50 "Major League Eating" events[4] 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.

The Great American Eat Off - a show that pits two average eaters against each other to see who can eat the fastest, while raising awareness for charity and then brings in a professional competitive eater to beat the winning time, raises the stakes for competitive eaters by incorporating various challenges and obstacles that would interfere with their speed. Obstacles may include eating with two spoons, eating with no hands, or Interval Eating where the competitive eater is permitted to eat for a limited time and then must rest for a specific time (i.e., eat 20 seconds, rest 40 seconds, eat 20 seconds, rest 40 seconds etc.) until they have completed the designated food. Interval Eating was created by Gail Kasper.

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,[5] 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.[6]

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."[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Due to the risks involved with training alone or without emergency medical supervision, the IFOCE actively discourages training of any sort.[11]

Televised contests[edit]

Criticisms and dangers[edit]


One criticism of competitive eating is the message that gluttonous sport sends as obesity levels rise among Americans,[13] and the example it sets for youth.[14] Actor Ryan Reynolds in an editorial on The Huffington Post, contended that competitive eating is another example of Western gluttony at a time when so many others around the world are starving.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] Long term effects of delayed stomach emptying include chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting.[18]

Discomfort following an event is common with nausea, heartburn, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea.[19] People may also use laxatives or force themselves to vomit following the event with associated risks.[19]


Most deaths have occurred from choking.[19]

  • In October 2012, a 32-year-old man died while competitively eating live roaches and worms. An autopsy revealed he choked to death.[20]
  • In July 2013, a 64-year-old Australian man, Bruce Holland, died in a pie eating contest.[21][22][23]
  • On July 4, 2014, a 47-year-old competitive eater choked to death during a hot dog eating contest.[24]
  • 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.[25] She died by choking.[26]
  • In 2017 a woman died from a water drinking competition due to water intoxication.[19]
  • 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.[27][28]
  • January 26, 2020, a woman died in Hervey Bay, Queensland in a lamington-eating contest on Australia Day.[29][30][31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hot Dog Eating Contest". Archived from the original on 2014-06-18. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  2. ^ "All Pro Eating Promotions". Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  3. ^ "'A little powerhouse:' Eaters remember Torres". Las Cruces Sun-News. Retrieved 2019-05-27.
  4. ^ "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  5. ^ "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  6. ^ "Scenes from a Vegan hot dog eating contest". Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  7. ^ Force Fed Creative Loafing blog May 9, 2007. Retrieved on June 30, 2009.
  8. ^ Eating champs to chow down at Everett wingding by Brian Alexander
  9. ^ Dworkin, Andy. "Champion competitive eater shares his training, victory" The Oregonian online. July 15, 2008. Retrieved on June 28, 2009.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  12. ^ Roberts, Sam (August 18, 2010). "Mortimer Matz, Press Agent Extraordinaire". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "Some find competitive eating hard to swallow." NBC News. November 21, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Reynolds, Ryan. "Competitive Eating." June 6, 2007. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  18. ^ Sine, Richard. "Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?." WebMD. Retrieved on July 4, 2009.
  19. ^ a b c d Albala, Ken (2015). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues. SAGE Publications. p. 275. ISBN 9781506317304.
  20. ^ "Man Choked to Death After Roach-Eating Contest: Autopsy | NBC 6 South Florida". 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2014-06-16.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Man Dies at South Dakota Hot Dog Eating Contest". The New York Times. 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  25. ^ "University Mourns Sorority Sister Who Died As A Result Of A Pancake-eating Contest".
  26. ^ Swerdloff, Alex (4 April 2017). "Eating Competitions Killed Two People This Past Weekend". Vice. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  27. ^ "Fresno man dies after competing in taco eating contest at Grizzlies baseball game". Fresno Bee. 2019. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
  28. ^ Press, Associated (15 August 2019). "Man dies after taco-eating contest in California". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^

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]