What is Competitive Eating?

Garry Crystal

Competitive eating is the process of consuming large amounts of food within a required timeframe. Traditionally, the eating contests were held at fairs to dispose of left over food. Now competitive eating has become big business. Competitors can take part in contests all over the country with large cash prizes awarded to the winners.

Pizza is a staple food in competitive eating contests.
Pizza is a staple food in competitive eating contests.

The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFCO) holds events for competitive eating all around the world. In 2005 prize money awarded totaled 230,000 US dollars (USD). One of the most popular contests is held every 4th of July on Coney Island in New York. Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest originated in 1916 and the event has been dominated by Takeru Kobayashi. The Japanese competitor managed to eat 54 hot dogs in 12 minutes and has won the contest six years in a row.

Hot dog eating contests are some of the most popular types of competitive eating contests.
Hot dog eating contests are some of the most popular types of competitive eating contests.

The main types of food eaten in the contests are of the fast food variety. Hot dogs, chicken wings, pickles, corndogs and pizza are staples of the contests. The contests usually last from around 8 to 12 minutes. Takeru Kobayashi is currently ranked number one in the world after eating 57 cow brains in 15 minutes.

Pickled cucumbers may be consumed in an eating contest.
Pickled cucumbers may be consumed in an eating contest.

Although most of the competitors are men, there are also women involved in competitive eating. Being large and overweight isn’t necessarily an advantage in competitive eating. The biggest advantage a competitor can have is the ability to actually stretch their stomach. Many competitors will drink gallons of water over a period of time in order to achieve this. This kind of training is frowned upon by medical experts.

Apart from having an unusually stretchable stomach, the other important factors seem to be hand to mouth speed and coordination. After the competition is over the competitors have very swollen stomachs. Their stomachs resemble overblown balloons that are ready to pop.

The IFCO have very strict safety guidelines laid out regarding competitive eating. Competitions must take place in a controlled area and only competitors over the age of 18 are allowed to enter. They also advise against any type of home training. There has been much talk regarding the inclusion of competitive eating as an Olympic sport. Although the IFCO have approached the Olympic committee, it seems that they will not be approving it at present.

Health aspects are a big factor in competitive eating. Very recently, competitive eating was a big hit on Japanese television. Due to a stunt involving the death of a speed eating student, it is virtually unheard of in Japan now. The biggest rule of competitive eating to remember is, don’t try this at home.

Chicken wings are commonly featured during competitive eating.
Chicken wings are commonly featured during competitive eating.

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Discussion Comments


I once took part in a McDonald's eating contest with some buddies of mine from high school. Each of us spent 50 dollars buying 50 McDoubles, which is basically a really cheap sloppy double cheeseburger.

We were not sure how much anyone would be able to eat so the contest was to see who could eat the most in 30 minutes, or who could finish theirs the fastest. No one finished. in fact, most of us did not even get close. I ate 15 before I felt like I was going to throw up.

You start strong but all of a sudden it hits you and you start to feel the 30 hamburger patties and buns that are in your stomach. It was kind of fun and silly but we all felt terrible for hours afterwards and we wasted a lot of food.


I once saw this competitive eating documentary and in it they proposed a theory for why tiny Japanese guys can consistently out eat huge Americans that are double or triple their size. They called it the belt of fat theory. It has some science behind it but it has never been proven.

The idea is that tiny Japanese men can eat so much so fast because of their low body fat. The lack of fat around their midsection allows their stomach to expand to incredible sizes without running into a barrier. By contrast, fat Americans have a lot of fat around their middles which acts like a belt, restricting the stomach once it grows too big.

Who knows if it is true but it is an interesting idea


When people think about competitive eating they usually think of the famous Nathans hot dog eating contest. But there are eating contests year round all across the country that have nothing to do with hot dogs.

Contestants eat everything from buffalo wings to spaghetti to one I even heard about that was a beet eating contest. The sport grows in popularity every year and new records are set all the time. You wouldn't expect it to be such a compelling spectator sport but I have been to a few contests and they were thrilling.

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