How Competitive Eaters do it – and What it Does to Them

At this year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, competitive eater Joey Chestnut (pictured) claimed his 16th title by downing 62 hot dogs in a mere 10 minutes, well below his world record 74 hot dogs that he set in 2017. The thought of it is enough to make any normal eater queasy. So, how do competitive eaters manage such extreme gorging? According to gastroenterologists, competitors most often use the swallowing technique “chipmunking,” in which they puff their cheeks out as they stuff their mouths full of food before drinking water to wash it down. The food mass moves through the esophagus, a portion of the route that takes about 10 seconds to traverse for the first mouthfuls and longer for every swallow afterward as the esophageal pipeline fills up. They relax their esophagus so that it expands, allowing more food to go down. From there, the hot dogs travel to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), an involuntary bundle of muscles at the low end of the esophagus that prevents acid from getting into the stomach. Once the food passes the LES, it enters the stomach. The side effects of such binges vary based on the competitor and the food being eaten, with hot dogs causing the most painful cramps. Other side effects include nausea, painful gas, vomiting, heartburn, and diarrhea. More serious side effects could include choking, esophageal inflammation and stomach rupture. There are always emergency medical technicians on hand during eating competitions in case there is a problem. Amazingly, the intensity of the competition doesn't stop most competitors from continuing to eat. Sometimes they'll actually go and have an ice cream after a competition.