The hard-to-swallow sport of competitive eating | Sunday Observer

The hard-to-swallow sport of competitive eating

15 August, 2021

Competitive Eating, where participants eat as much as they can, as fast as they can, may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of sports. In spite of this, competitors taking part in such events train their bodies and minds so vigorously it is difficult to think of them as anything but athletes.

Most thoughts on competitive eating are of two minds; usually that it sounds super simple or that it’s extremely disgusting. The latter is a valid opinion but the former is very much misinformed as it’s a rigorous competition with serious health risks that can easily chew up and spit out amateurs.

As can be expected of such an idea, the history of Competitive Eating popped up early. The concept can be traced as far back as the 13th century, with the Norse myth of an eating competition between the Norse God of Mischief, Loki and his servant Logi, which Logi won by also eating his plate. However, the first known instance of an organized speed eating competition was recorded back in Toronto 1878 with a Pie eating competition.

Since then, it was a popular competition everywhere but didn’t truly become a phenomenon until America’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest which has been held nearly every year since 1972. This competition gave rise to some of the biggest names in competitive eating such as Takeru ‘The Tsunami’ Kobayashi and Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut.

The contest intrinsically linked competitive eating with America’s pride and patriotism, often held on certain American holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. This fact has been a major point of mockery for America, with critics citing it as a symbol of their gluttony and especially their obesity.

In addition to these criticisms, there are major health concerns brought up around competitive eating. Beyond obesity, health complications such as stomach perforations, lung infections and esophageal ruptures. Even the excessive drinking of water, which is often the case at competitions, can cause water intoxication, a potentially fatal condition. However, most deaths involved with competitive eating predictably comes from choking, with the most recent case taking place in 2020, during a Lamington eating competition at an Australia Day celebration.

In spite of these risks, many competitors put themselves through rigorous daily training routines in order to minimize risks and stay in perfect condition. One of the primary methods of preparation is to consume large amounts of liquids like water, milkshakes and vegetable juice in a short amount of time, in order to expand the stomach months in advance of a competition. The throat is also trained to handle a lot of food at once, with practice starting with large mouthfuls of water at once, and then solid foods without chewing once warmed up. There is also heavy mental training to rid themselves of a gag reflex, which can cost a win at critical moments.

When witnessing a competitive eating competition for the first time, it can be both bewildering and off putting. But there is also a heavy sense of competition present at these contests, just as strong as any traditional sport. Participants push their bodies and mind to their limits for competitions and while the practice as a concept might be disagreeable or problematic, there is something to be admired there.