I’ve voiced my opinion about the competitive eating contests to just about anyone willing to listen. Pancakes, hot dogs, pasta, wings, pizza, sandwiches, ribs and things. Whatever you desire to be gluttonous about you can probably find a contest for it. In Maine, from May to August, you can participate in eating competitions that will allow you to down anything from barbecue treats to lobster rolls, and get paid if you win. The highest paying contest that I came across doled out $1,400 for eating lobster rolls — $700 for first place, $500 for second and $200 for third — Aug. 3 at the Bangor State Fair.
So why do I take issue with these competitions? For two reasons. No. 1, our rate of obesity in this country is outrageous. We have already proven that we can eat lots of food. We don’t need any type of competition to prove it. Second, there are children that go to bed at night hungry. It is unconscionable to think that in the same day a person can consume 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes and get paid thousands of dollars to do so, and that same night somewhere in the United States there are children that go to bed crying because of growling bellies.
It used to be that eating contests were only seen in the summer at local fairs and festivals and were believed to have started as a way to celebrate the bounty of food during harvest time. Having become so sophisticated, there is now even a group that develops, promotes and judges eating contests internationally. Richard Shea is president of Major League Eating. Shea says that there is a lot of skill involved in eating a lot. Stomach capacity, jaw strength and hand speed are important skills in this competition. Shea calls the annual Nathan’s Famous hot dog competition at New York’s Coney Island the league’s “Superbowl.” This year’s hot dog champion was Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. It took him just 10 minutes to pack away 68 hot dogs and buns. Joey made more than $70,000 last year by eating lots of food — fast.
Competitive eating is a not a well-studied phenomenon. There are some nutrition-related concerns however. Many competitive eaters consume large quantities of water. Water intoxication is a concern. If competitors are vomiting on a regular basis this can be an issue because of the possibility of aspiration. Another serious risk is a condition called gastroparesis. The stomach muscles become paralyzed because of repeatedly being overstretched, so they may ultimately fail to contract. The stomach can lose its ability to empty on its own. Gastroparesis can be responsible for chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting.
There is no question that eating competitions are gaining in popularity. The hot dog eating contest attracted some 40,000 spectators this year. Back just 15 or 20 years ago a crowd of 1,000 may have shown up. MLE has approached the U.S. and International Olympic Committees about being included as an Olympic sport. So far — no takers.
There are too many people in this country that don’t have adequate nutrition and too many people who abuse food or are overnourished. As a registered dietitian the idea of competitive eating as a “sport” concerns me. I personally and professionally don’t see the “sport” involved in stuffing your face — food is meant to provide nourishment; eating is not meant to provide entertainment. Please, go for a walk instead.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.