What makes eating competitions so dangerous?

What makes eating competitions so dangerous?

For many across the country, the Fourth of July means fireworks, barbeques, celebrating America and the famous Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Although it’s intriguing to watch food competitions, stuffing your mouth with lots of food in a matter of seconds can have serious side effects for your mind and body.

“Choking remains by far the most common acute health risk, besides tongue bites and finger bites,” says Dr. Sachin Dixit, family medicine physician at Advocate Medical Group. “These contests should be held with emergency medical technologists being on site.”

A 2007 study from the American Journal of Roentgenology examined the stomachs of two male speed eaters: a lean 29-year-old and a heavier 35-year-old, to determine how they could eat large quantities of food at a fast pace. The researchers had the men consume bunless hot dogs in a span of 12 minutes and told the men to lift their shirts before and after the contest to determine any visual stomach changes. Immediately before and after eating, the men laid on a table and consumed an “effervescent agent,” along with a dosage of barium so that images of their stomachs could be taken using “intermittent fluoroscopy.”

According to the results, before the 29-year-old ate, his stomach appeared to be smooth and normal. He consumed a total of seven hot dogs, and the researchers didn’t notice any physical bloating, except hot dog particles inside his stomach. On the other hand, the 35-year-old had a flat stomach to begin, but after eating 36 hot dogs, his stomach was much bigger.

The researchers found speed eaters can eat large food quantities fast because their stomachs tend to empty faster or quickly enlarge to fill with food. However, serious consequences can occur. In speed-eaters’ brains, they usually can’t comprehend what it means to be full due to the way they train their bodies.

Dr. Dixit emphasizes eating competitions aren’t healthy, if you don’t have the proper training for them, and getting sick can be a potential side effect.

The study further concluded competitors are more at risk of becoming obese as they age, and binge-eating may become normal for them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests 2,000 calories a day as general nutrition advice, although calorie needs vary. However, participants in food competitions can quickly consume their recommended daily caloric intake in a matter of minutes.

Competitive eaters may not be able to shrink back their stomachs or relieve themselves from solid foods. As a result, they can become nauseous to food and lose their ability to eat.

“If the stomach loses its ability to return to normal size, there is a chance it loses its capacity to contract (peristalsis) and muscles do not contract to push the food into duodenum (the second part of intestine),” says Dr. Dixit.

One more risk? The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) found competitive eaters can become exposed to water intoxication from drinking excessive amounts of water in a short time frame — often competitors soak their hot dogs in water and drink liquid before and after competitions. ACSH reports that water intoxication can potentially cause brain swelling, a stroke or a decrease in blood salt levels.

Dr. Dixit also advises being careful if mixing alcohol with food competitions, urges not to try competitive eating at home, and above all, to protect your body.

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About the Author

Kelsey Andeway
Kelsey Andeway

Kelsey Andeway, health e-news contributor, is a public affairs intern at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago earning a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Dance. In her free time, Kelsey enjoys dancing, baking, and taking long walks with her Chocolate Lab.