The science of competitive eating

    Americans love competitive eating. (Because what could be better than watching someone stuff their face with food?) Nathan’s annual hot dog eating competition is a Fourth of July staple, and Todoroki, a restaurant in downtown Evanston, will be hosting a sushi-eating contest on Sunday, November 11.

    But what exactly happens when a competitive eater (or just your average college student) decides to eat such an enormous amount of food?

    When you eat, your stomach expands. For a competitive eater, however, his or her stomach expands far more than the average person. According to “Competitive Speed Eating: Truth and Consequences,” a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, a competitive eater’s stomach can expand “to a degree that it could accept an almost unlimited volume of food.”

    This study involved comparing the stomachs of a 29-year-old male competitive speed eater and a 35-year-old male after they each ate as many hot dogs as they were able in 12 minutes. Besides the expansion of their stomachs, another difference between the two subjects was how each of them felt after eating.

    The competitive eater did not feel full or uncomfortable as he was stuffing himself with hot dogs, but the 35-year-old male felt significant discomfort and was full after eating seven hot dogs. This suggests that competitive eaters have trained their body to ignore or suppress the typical response to feeling full.

    Although competitive eating might seem fun, there are certainly dangers that come along with it. According to the 2018 study “The Perils of Competitive Eating!” published in Gastroenterology, competitive eatings have a risk of gastroparesis – a condition which prevents one’s stomach from emptying correctly, ruptured bowels and obesity, among other complications.

    While I wouldn’t recommend eating massive loads of food regularly, the prize for winning Todoroki’s competition might just be too good to pass up: free all-you-can-eat sushi once a week from Jan. 1 to March 10. Todoroki plans on choosing the competitors through a lottery. Ten men and ten women will be chosen, and Lucas Kaplan, a first-year journalism major, is one of the hopeful competitors.

    “I’m going with a friend, and we’re going on Sunday. We both normally sleep very, very late on Sundays, so this part shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but neither of us are planning on eating anything before the competition," Kaplan said. "I’m definitely going to drink some water. I know it might not be the best strategy for my health, but I am trying to be as hungry as possible going into it.”

    Although it might seem like a good idea to go into the competition on an empty stomach, competitive eater Yasir Salem actually eats before a competition to keep up his energy, but he does stick to a liquid diet. If you’re hoping to win unlimited sushi, Salem offers some more tips to crush the competition.

    During the competition, Salem stands up, which he says “helps open up the space” and is less restrictive to his stomach. Salem also stated that liquids may be useful as a way to get the food down, but it’s important to drink warm water because cold water can cause your throat to tighten, making it more difficult to eat quickly.

    Good luck to all the competitors at Todoroki, and if you win, feel free to share some sushi with me


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