Don’t fight it. Don’t disappoint Mom and Grandma. Load up another plate full of the delectable treats that make eating during the holidays so memorable and work your way through the chow using these tricks from the world’s top competitive eaters.
1. PRACTICE WITH WATER FIRST.
Before you tackle holiday cookies or ham, you’ll need to get your stomach ready. Champion eaters like Matt Stonie, currently No. 1 in the Major League Eating rankings, and Joey Chestnut, the world-record holder with 69 hot dogs consumed in 10 minutes at the 2013 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, chug up to a gallon of water after practice sessions in order to expand their stomach capacity. “Drinking as much water as I can afterwards till, bluntly put, I feel like I’m gonna explode,” Stone told USA Today.
2. EMBRACE SUPPLEMENTS AND CITRUS.
Chestnut told GQ that in addition to practicing before his big contests by inhaling 420 hot dogs in four weeks, he adds protein supplements to his diet and follows eating sessions with a cleanse of lemon water.
3. STRENGTHEN YOUR JAW.
Swallowing all that water doesn’t just expand your stomach. Takeru Kobayashi, who set a Nathan’s world record in 2001 by devouring 50 hot dogs in 10 minutes and helped turn the Independence Day eating contest into an ESPN-televised spectacle, strengthens his jaw with massive gulps of water, sometimes downing three gallons in 90 seconds. During training, Chestnut will drink a gallon of water in the morning in as few as 12 gulps.
4. DON’T GET CAUGHT UP WORRYING ABOUT FLAVORS.
Kobayashi eliminates one of the most important components of eating during training and contests: taste. “If you taste something, you’re not at the maximum of your ability,” he told Deadspin in 2014. For him, the key elements are the temperature of the ingredients and their texture.
5. SLIM DOWN BEFORE YOU CHOW DOWN.
It seems counterintuitive, but having a trim waist may help you pack in the treats. The “belt of fat” theory contends that having additional fat around your midsection makes it more difficult to expand, meaning leaner competitors like Kobayashi, who weighs around 130 pounds, and Sonya Thomas, who tops out around 105 pounds, have an advantage over their larger brethren. Out of Major League Eating’s top 10 eaters, seven tip the scales at under 200 pounds.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BURP.
When you overeat, the human body sends numerous signals to your brain to alert you to shut things down. Stretch receptors in the stomach warn of going past the breaking point, pain and nausea set in, and finally regurgitation saves you. But allowing a transient lower-esophageal sphincter reaction (TLESR) to occur can vent gas and air from the stomach and ease the discomfort. In other words, burp a lot.
7. VISIT YOUR DENTIST.
Kobayashi suffered from temporomandibular joint derangement, or jaw arthritis, from the intense chewing and swallowing of competitive eating. Along with facial massages and heat, he regularly sees a dentist to combat the pain.
8. LET YOUR DOCTOR WEIGH IN, TOO.
The list of maladies associated with competitive eating isn’t short. Along with complications from obesity and diabetes, there’s stroke (Moon-Pie eating champ Mort Hurst suffered one after eating 38 soft-boiled eggs in 29 seconds in 1991), choking, water intoxication, esophageal tears, high blood pressure, dizziness, gastric ruptures, and a dangerous drop in sodium levels.
9. MAKE IT ONE MEAL A DAY.
Thomas, the second-ranked female competitive eater and sixth overall, manages a Burger King at Andrews Air Force Base and amazes her co-workers by downing a grilled chicken sandwich, two large fries, 16 chicken tenders, and three large sodas in one sitting. But that suffices for a day for Thomas, and other eaters, like Tim “Eater X” Janus, limit their portions when they’re not racing against the clock.
10. TRAIN YOUR BRAIN.
The biggest challenge most eaters face is mental. The brain knows when it’s time to stop, and getting past that block to keep gorging is the key to racing against the clock and the competition. Sonya Thomas likened her ability to clear that mental hurdle to the unpleasantness of having to ingest medicine or pills. “You can train yourself to swallow it,” she told ESPNW.
11. STUDY YOUR FOOD.
Stonie, who holds world records for bacon (182 strips in 5 minutes), gyros (24 in 10 minutes), pepperoni rolls (34 in 10 minutes), and pumpkin pie (20 lbs., 13 oz. in 8 minutes), was studying nutrition in college before becoming a professional. But his main focus now is determining the best way to consume hot dogs, cakes, and tacos in the fastest time by looking into the composition and texture of the item before plowing ahead. And Kobayashi pioneered a couple of techniques, the “Tokyo Style” of separating the hot dog from the bun, and the “Solomon Method” of splitting the dogs in half, that vaulted him to the top of the sport.
All images courtesy of iStock.