Yes, there really is such a thing and there really are professional eaters. Major League Eating is the world body that oversees all professional eating contests. The organization, which developed competitive eating and includes the sport's governing body, the International Federation of Competitive Eating, helps sponsors to develop, publicize and execute world-class eating events in all varieties of food disciplines. MLE-sanctioned eating contests provide dramatic audience entertainment and offer an unparalleled platform for media exposure. MLE conducts approximately 80 events annually and has produced hours of programming for SpikeTV, ESPN, Fox, and Bio.
Competitive eating, or speed eating, is a sport (?) in which participants compete against each other to consume large quantities of food in a short time period. Contests are typically eight to 10 minutes long, and usually less than 15 minutes in length, with the person consuming the most food being declared the winner. Competitive eating is most popular in the United States, Canada, and Japan, where organized professional eating contests often offer prizes, including cash.
Traditionally, eating contests, often involving pies, were events at county fairs. The recent surge in the popularity of competitive eating is due in large part to the development of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, an annual holiday tradition that has been held on July 4 virtually every year since the 1970s at Coney Island. In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi transformed the competition and the world of competitive eating by downing 50 hot dogs. Kobayashi was dethroned by Joey Chesnut in 2008 when they tied at 59 hot dogs in 10 minutes and Chestnut won in an eat-off which involved being the first to eat 5 hot dogs in overtime. Chestnut holds the world record of 69 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Kobayashi holds six Guinness Records, for eating hot dogs, meatballs, Twinkies, hamburgers, pizza.
Other eating contests sponsored are by various businesses and can involve a challenge to eat large or extraordinarily spicy food items, including giant steaks, hamburgers and curries in a set amount of time. Those who finish the item are often rewarded by not having to pay for the item, or with a t-shirt and the addition of their name and/or photo on a wall of challenge victors.
The type of food used in contests varies greatly, with each contest typically only using one type of food (e.g. a hot dog eating contest). Foods used in professional eating contests include hamburgers, hot dogs, pies, pancakes, chicken wings, asparagus, pizza, ribs, whole turkeys, among many other types of food.
Competitive eating contests often adhere to an 8, 10, 12 or 15 minute time limit. They may employ a series of judges, whose role is to enforce the contest rules and warn eaters about infractions. Judges will also be called upon to count or weigh each competitor's food and certify the results of the contest prior to the winner being announced.
Many eaters will attempt to put as much food in their mouths as possible during the final seconds of a contest, a practice known by professionals as "chipmunking." If chipmunking is allowed in a contest, eaters are given a reasonable amount of time to swallow the food or risk a deduction from their final totals.
In many contests, except those adhering to "picnic style rules" eaters are allowed to dunk foods in water or other liquids in order to soften the food and make it easier to chew and swallow. Dunking typically takes place with foods involving a bun or other doughy parts. Professional contests often enforce a limit on the amount of time competitors are allowed to dunk food.
All-Pro Eating is the home of World Championship Competitive Eating and is the sport's only home of picnic style rules. They provide "heart pounding entertainment."
Competitors are expected to maintain a relatively clean eating surface throughout the contest. Excess debris after the contest may result in a deduction from the eater's final totals.
If, at any point during or immediately after the contest, a competitor pukes any food, they will be disqualified. Vomiting includes obvious signs as well as any small amounts of food that may fall from the mouth deemed by judges to have come from the stomach. Small amounts of food already in the mouth prior to swallowing are excluded from this rule.
Many professional competitive eaters undergo rigorous personal training in order to increase their stomach capacity and eating speed with various foods. Stomach elasticity is usually considered the key to eating success, and competitors commonly train by drinking large amounts of water over a short time to stretch out the stomach. Others combine the consumption of water with large quantities of low calorie foods such as vegetables or salads. Some eaters chew large amounts of gum in order to build jaw strength.
Like all sports, physical danger is always present. One criticism of competitive eating is the message the gluttonous "sport" sends as obesity levels rise among Americans and the example it sets for youth.
The main argument against competitive eating can cause weight gain, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, common ailment among the pros. Damage to the digestive system was the subject of a 2007 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. The study observed professional eater Tim Janus, who ate 36 hot dogs in 10 minutes before doctors intervened. It was concluded that through training, Janus' stomach failed to have normal muscle contractions called peristalsis, a function which transfers food from the stomach down the digestive tract. Stomach paralysis is a concern among those who routinely stretch their stomachs beyond capacity because it may lead to the stomach's inability to contract and lose its ability to empty itself. Side effects of gastroparesis include chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting. It's not unheard of that from time to time eaters die on the job, so to speak...mostly from choking to death.