How Competitive Eating Works

Competitive Eating Secrets

Eric 'Badlands' Booker
Photo courtesy IFOCE
Eric "Badlands" Booker

Competitive eaters have a few secrets that they have developed over the years to help them stuff food into themselves a little bit faster. The most basic is the water dunk. Virtually every competitor keeps a cup of water at the table to dip the contest food. This softens and lubricates the food, allowing them to chew it faster and swallow it more easily. Technically any liquid could be used, but anything that has calories will make it harder to eat more in the long run.

Another key technique is to break the food into smaller pieces before eating it. This allows competitors to fit more food into their mouths at once, and also cuts down on chewing time. Kobayashi's "Solomon Technique" (also referred to as "Japanesing") involves breaking a hot dog in half and then stuffing both halves into the mouth at once. Otherwise, it would be difficult to fit an entire hot dog at once because of the length. Almost all serious eaters eat hot dogs and buns separately.

Other than those basic tactics, competitive eating is largely a matter of willpower. Competitors must fight their gag reflexes and their stomach's natural reaction to such a large amount of food being dumped into it very quickly (what the IFOCE refers to as "urges contrary to swallowing").

Sonya Thomas
Photo courtesy IFOCE
Sonya Thomas eats one large meal each day,
usually from a buffet

Too Much of a Good Thing?
Drinking a large amount of water in a short period of time can dilute the electrolytes in your blood, which can lead to a loss of heart, muscle and brain function. Under most conditions, drinking 8 to 16 ounces of water per hour should be enough to keep you hydrated [ref].

It is possible to train ahead of time for an eating contest, although the IFOCE does not recommend it. Competitors can train their brains to ignore the "full" feeling (actually the stomach muscles relaxing as they stretch) by repeatedly filling the stomach with large meals or through water training. Water training requires drinking an entire gallon of water in 30 seconds. The water stretches out the stomach. Supposedly, this makes it easier to down food in huge quantities. Neither of these activities is healthy. The water exercise can be very dangerous, resulting in perforations of the stomach lining and water intoxication, which is potentially fatal.

Next, we'll look beyond training and tactics to see what makes the world's top eaters truly amazing.