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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Competitive Eating: A Sport?

Have you heard about the sport of competitive eating? Yes, I did say sport. You have likely heard of the occasional hot dog eating contest at the county fair, but competitive eating is fast becoming a sport and there are fairly large cash purses as prizes at the competitions.

There is actually an organization that supervises and regulates eating contests all over the world. They International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). To be fair, they do not recommend trying this at home. They caution against “at-home training” and also “discourages younger individuals from eating for speed or quantity under any circumstances.” Most of the competitive eaters out there do indeed “practice” by expanding their stomachs with large quantities of food, and may go on a special liquid diet for several days before competition.

My problem with competitive eating is this: Since when did binge eating become a sport? And with 2/3 of Americans overweight or obese, do we really need to encourage and reward binge eating? There are a handful of professional competitive eaters out there, but more and more these eating contests are showing up in our communities without the large cash purses and attracting the average American. This is dangerous and really not sending the message of moderation in our diets.

ESPN is actually airing these eating contests and people are coming out in the tens of thousands to watch them. The purses for the contests reaches as much as $35,000 (for the Krystal Hamburger eating contest). One of the top ranked competitive eaters in the world is a 105 pound woman, Sonya Thomas. She has very impressive records, including eating 8.31 pounds of Vienna sausage in 10 minutes.

Harmful effects

Competitive eaters have not really been studied medically as a group, but I can only assume that they are at risk for intestinal problems in the short and long term. The competitors do have to stretch their stomachs, setting themselves up for risk of gastroparesis and obesity in the future when they don’t feel full from normal quantities of food. If they vomit up the food (many do when practicing) then that creates a whole new set of problems.

I personally do not find binge eating entertaining and hope that this new trend of competitive eating does not gain in popularity creating a whole new “sport” in which Americans seem to be excelling at.

For more information, check out these articles on competitive eating:
Competitive eating a man-eat-dog world on espn.com
Competitive eating: how safe is it? on webmd.com

Photo courtesy of chadmill
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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