The 5 Grossest Facts About Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

You’re not going to believe this, but there’s a darkness behind hot-dog-eating contests
The 5 Grossest Facts About Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

In the world of competitive eating, theres one event that stands above all the rest. By which I mean, theres one event that holds some degree of mainstream respect, instead of solely being a source of 2 a.m. YouTube disgust. That event, of course, is Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is held every year on Fourth of July. 

It all makes for a pretty perfect American tradition, being that its something that would normally get you sent to a mental and/or regular hospital, but because its in the name of patriotism, it creates cult heroes instead. 

That said, its not all glitz and glamour. In fact, its zero percent glitz or glamour. 

Here are five particularly stomach-turning facts about it for your displeasure…

Disgusting Preparation Methods Made It What It Is Today


If you ask the worlds weirdest historians about when the Nathans contest became a bona-fide freak show, theyll point to the debut of Takeru Kobayashi. He entered the fray in 2001, and immediately skyrocketed the frankfurter count to a staggering 50 hot dogs. With that one event, we moved forever past the point of “real hungry” into “genuinely concerning.” 

According to Kobayashi himself, the key to doubling the previous record was his training, which involved force-feeding himself three gallons of water in 90 seconds to expand his stomach. From there, two paths diverged: One saying, “Yeah, dont do that please,” and another that said, “Lets see how nightmarish this gets.” 

Door number two was chosen.

Competitive Eating Comes With A Whole Lot of, Let s Say, Reverse-Eating

Everyones probably familiar with the bodys go-to response to too much food — which is to fire some back out with a rousing “no thank you.” As youd imagine, the point at which your stomach has no more need for hot dogs is far before youre even in the lower double digits, so if youre a competitive eater, youre also, by the nature of the beast, a competitive vomiter. 

A former Nathans champion named Tim Janus shared that over 12 years of competitive eating, he tossed his cookies/hot dogs/et cetera close to 10,000 times. Meanwhile, Im going straight to the hospital if I hit a bakers dozen upchucks within just one year.

Serious Competitors Basically Learn How to Turn Off Their Stomachs


Besides being deeply gross, that propensity for stomach emptying doesnt help your professional eating pursuits either. So whats someone to do but to reprogram one of the most important organs in the body to stop doing its job? 

The way that your stomach processes food is known as peristalsis, and this is a valuable process — if youre actually trying to absorb nutrients and feed yourself, that is. If youre instead trying to make your stomach explode like an overfull catheter, its an annoyance. To that end, competitive eaters have actually achieved turning off peristalsis altogether.

Which, Yes, Can Have Permanent Negative Effects

If youre thinking, hey, teaching your stomach to stop stomach-ing seems bad, youre absolutely right! It ties into a serious danger that high-level competitive eaters have to contend with. Namely, something called profound gastroparesis. Here, “profound” doesnt mean thoughtful and incisive, but rather, “This is so messed-up we didnt ever really think it would happen.” 

What it entails is that your stomach muscles, weakened by your hobby of filling yourself like a meat scarecrow, no longer move food through your digestive tract properly, even when youre not trying to set a record. Because sometimes, predicting health risks is a real Occams razor situation.

They Also Learn to Shut Off Their Gag Reflex


Speaking of shutting down natural body processes, competitive eating can also be responsible for, by far, the least sexy reason to eliminate your gag reflex. 

The fact is, at the speed and volumes modern eating competitions are approaching, its generous to even describe what theyre doing as “eating.” Theres very little chewing and possibly less digesting going on. Its closer to trying to fit two weeks of luggage into a single TSA-approved carry-on than any sort of impressive stomach function. And so, when youre trying to shove chunks of almost fully ungnawed foodstuffs down your throat, you learn to turn off your gag reflex entirely.

After doing the research for this post, I wish I could do the same.

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