For most people a trip or two through the buffet is all they can muster before it’s time to go for a nap. However, for others, chowing down more than anyone else is a thrill in and of itself. Competitive eating has been “expanding” in popularity over the last decade thanks in part to groups like the International Federation of Competitive Eating who dolled out $400,000 in prize money in 2009 alone & has partnered with big names like ESPN & Alka-Seltzer. The televised Nathan’s Hotdog Eating contests & shows like “Man vs Food”(which I personally like) have brought the concept away from it’s early sideshow/county fair roots and more into the mainstream.Like most professional sports, professional competitive eating is not for everyone. The people who actually win these competitions train constantly to allow their bodies to intake many times more the amount of food than the average person. Some of these competitors are seemingly designed for completive eating. For example, competitive eater Tim Janus supposedly has a stomach that is four times larger than average. This may be due to his training or he may have been born with this stomach stretching capability.
While the obvious danger of competitive eating would appear to be things like weight gain, high blood pressure and or cholesterol, the fact is that many of the most successful competitors are actually quite thin. The truly serious dangers are in how the stomach is pushed to the limit. Many train to stretch their stomach out and this stretching can have permanent consequences. Dr Low How Cheng from the National University Hospital in Singapore and David Metz from the University of Pennsylvania both have expressed concerns over this stretching causing eventual Gastroparesis. As the stomach stretches, it loses muscle tone and it’s ability to contract via peristalsis is impaired. Many athletes are actually conditioning their brain to ignore signals from the vagus nerve which runs to the stomach and helps signal when the stomach is full. Gastroparesis is a very serious issue as Dr. Low How Cheng noted:
“The consequences of gastroparesis are long-term nausea and vomiting which can impair one’s quality of life severely.”
Other major issues that can occur are perforation of the stomach, internal bleeding or even water intoxication if a competitor is trying to train by pounding down massive quantities of water instead of food.
In the long run, it doesn’t appear that competitive eating will become a beloved spectator sport, but will probably remain in the niche it’s already carved out. What with health & obesity awareness on the rise, the appeal of the sport may even start to diminish. I’d also imagine it might be hard to build around a sport where the post-game show may involve regular vomiting. Just not my cup of tea.