After searching for “The Dangers Of Competitive Eating,” just to see what was already available online, I found a few articles that definitely supported my claim that most people have no real understanding of the sport. There are articles filled with quotes from doctors that don’t even have any research to back up their claims, and there are other articles written by authors that seem like they cannot even finish an entire foot-long sandwich. You can read all of the books in the world, but it is pretty tough to make valid arguments against a particular topic if you have no real experience dealing with that particular field. While I respect doctors and the amount of studying that they do to become doctors, learning from books and learning from real experiences are two totally different things, and I don’t know of any doctors that have ever competed in a serious eating competition before. While competitive eating is not the safest sport in the world, some of the claims against it are very unreasonable. Like any sport, serious issues can occur, but you can definitely take certain precautions to ensure safety so that you do not hurt yourself or damage your health. These are all issues that can occur while participating in food challenges and competitive eating events, along with what you can do to minimize the chances of the situation arising:
You can choke – To be a successful speed eater, you have to focus mostly on swallowing rather than chewing. Because of that, you are swallowing larger pieces than you would be if eating a normal dinner and chewing each bite the recommended 27 times. Combining speed eating with swallowing large pieces of food create a higher possibility of choking especially with foods like hot dogs. While speed eating, make sure to take very many small bites rather than a few large bites so you reduce the need for chewing and the possibility of choking.
You can bite your finger – If you are “in the zone” during a competition, you are focusing on nothing but dominating the tray of food in front of you. Anything that comes near your mouth is at risk, including your fingers. I have bitten a finger during an eating contest, but luckily it wasn’t anything serious. I’ve heard of a few other eaters doing this too. Make sure to not get your fingers too close to your mouth when taking quick, hard bites, just like a carpenter needs to make sure he keeps his hands away from his saw when cutting a board.
You may get sick – Whether you are competing in an eating contest, attempting a food challenge, at an all-you-can-eat buffet, celebrating Thanksgving, or even at your grandma’s house for dinner, if you eat too much there is a chance that you will get a stomach ache or throw up. That’s just common sense, so make sure to be careful.
You may gain weight – Whether you are at Old Country Buffet, doing a food challenge, or even cooking for yourself, if you eat more calories than you physically burn off, you will gain weight. If you eat 3,000 calories worth of carrots and spinach in one day, and only burn 2,000 calories, you will gain weight because those extra calories will be processed and stored as fat. Excess calories get stored as fat whether they are from vegetables or brownies. If you compete in an eating competition without understanding that concept, the competition is not at fault for you gaining weight. You may win a challenge and get the meal free, but you will still pay for it later both at the gym and in your kitchen if you want to avoid gaining excess fat, and there is no way around that.
You can drown yourself if training with liquids – No matter what an eater says, all of the top eaters train for their eating competitions beforehand. You cannot just wake up and decide to compete in a serious eating contest or food challenge. Different eaters have their own way of training. Some train with food, some with liquids, and some train with both. If you attempt to train with water or other liquids, you can seriously hurt yourself and even kill yourself if you are not extremely careful. Drinking too much water at one time can deplete your electrolytes and cause you to pass out or even die. The solution to this risk is simple. Don’t water train!!! If you are wanting to involve liquids in your training, eat a few pounds of food and then drink your liquids. To say that some of the top eaters do not train with liquids would be a lie, but they are professionals that have been building their capacity for many years and have done it safely. Since you are just starting out, do not set yourself up to get hurt. Eating is meant to be fun, and it’s not worth getting hurt while training, so don’t put yourself in danger.
All of the situations above are reasonable issues that can possibly occur while actively competing in eating contests and food challenges. There is one “go to” danger though that doctors typically always reference during interviews, and that is that you can possibly rupture your stomach or esophagus by eating too much and over-extending your stomach or esophagus muscles. I know eaters that have actively been involved with competitive eating for over 15 years. The current #1 eater, Joey Chestnut, has eaten so much food so many times in so many contests since he started back in 2005 that it is pointless to even try to do any calculations. Never in the history of competitive eating has anybody ever ruptured their stomach. Millions of people have attempted an eating challenge or competed in an eating contest, and of course some people are more extreme than the rest, yet there have been absolutely ZERO occurrences where a person’s stomach ruptured. That doesn’t exactly make the possibility of rupturing your stomach a valid safety concern to worry about, so let’s stop bringing that up.
The human body is capable of extraordinary things, and it also has ways to keep you from hurting yourself by attempting to do something you are not capable of. If you chug a 1-liter bottle of 80-proof liquor (vodka, rum, etc…) in 10 seconds, your body will not be able to process that much alcohol that quickly. Since your body won’t be able to handle all the poison you gave it, you will more than likely die, and you hear about stories like that all the time on the news. You never hear about people dying from drinking only 4.2% beer though do you? To reach the amount of alcohol that a 1-liter bottle of 80-proof liquor contains would take a few gallons of beer. It would take 10 hours to drink that much beer rather than 10 seconds. Your body would have a lot more time to process all of it. Along with having more time, your body would shut itself down so that you can’t drink anymore, or it would make you throw up, both way before reaching a level that it definitely cannot handle and process.
While it can be seriously dangerous chugging a liquid if you drink too much of it too quickly, you cannot chug food, and you can only eat food so fast. Even if you are dunking food in liquid so that you can eat faster, you are not eating at a speed that your body cannot handle. If you reach your maximum capacity or any other point where your body cannot handle any more punishment, it will handle the situation by forcing all of that food right back out where it came from, which does happen sometimes during different eating events. 99.99% of the time, your stomach muscles are not just going to tear. If they do, you probably had a very serious medical condition resulting in a weakened stomach lining, and you should not have entered the competition in the first place.
As far as long-term results, there have been no reputable studies done on any competitive eaters, and therefore no meaningful response can be given. I follow just about everyone who is active in the eating community, and I am not aware of any eaters that have any health issues that stemmed from competitive eating. There are some older eaters that are larger than they were back in their prime, but that is not because of competitive eating. Consistently training to increase your stomach capacity relaxes the stomach muscles so that you are able to eat more, but once you stop training, your stomach muscles will contract back to the size your stomach was before you began your training. After taking a few months off, I can definitely tell that I did upon starting back up again because my first challenge back is usually much slower than usual, and therefore I have to get my body back into shape. If you do anything to your body for a long period of time that isn’t exactly great for it, there is of course some risk that goes along with that. There is a reason why so many older athletes have bad hips and joints, because the human body can only handle so much wear and tear, which is why you should not abuse it.
Your internal digestive organs have to work overtime to digest all of the extra food, and there may be some “wear and tear” if you compete without practicing moderation for a long period of time. There are very many examples of highly-trained long-distance athletes that have died of heart failure due to overworking their cardiovascular system for too many years. There are ZERO examples of any digestive organs failing, but it would be wrong to say it cannot happen. With that being said, there is no reason to worry about long-term results if you only plan on doing a few recreational competitions just for fun. All professional athletes know the risks and possibilities that can arise while playing and competing in their particular sport. If careful though, serious health issues are very unlikely to occur. You and I are both not Joey Chestnut or Takeru Kobayashi, so there is no reason to even compare our physical shape to theirs. You can get hurt doing anything if you try to compete outside your limits. Nobody is invincible or immortal, and therefore you must be careful. If you are wanting to compete in an eating competition, please be safe, use our advice, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.
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