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Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?

As eating contests become more popular, some experts are concerned about the risks.
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Secrets of Competitive Eating continued...

Chestnut also practices by drinking up to a gallon of milk in a single sitting, which he says trains his stomach to expand.

Chestnut says he prepares carefully for practice and competition. In the days before a competition, he stops eating solid foods and limits his diet to protein supplements.

"Psychologically, I like to go in hungry," he says. "If I see on the scale that I have dropped weight, I can easily imagine an enormous amount of food inside me."

For a day or two after most competitions or practices, Chestnut admits that he "doesn't feel so good." He goes back on the protein supplement diet as his stomach empties out, he says.

At 6 feet 1 inch tall, the large-framed Chestnut weighs about 220 pounds, though he came in at 207 before this year's hot dog contest. "I control my calorie intake pretty rigorously," he says, and he also runs to keep his weight down.

How does Chestnut win eating contests? Like most competitive eaters, Chestnut drinks lots of water during the contest and dunks his food in water, which he believes helps the food settle at the bottom of his stomach. He moves around as he eats, which also helps the food settle. And he also attributes his success to good pacing.

Think competitive eating is just mindless gluttony? Don't tell Hall Hunt, a 25-year-old structural engineer currently ranked ninth in the world. Known for his "academic approach" to eating, Hunt tells WebMD that he carefully studies each food to maximize edibility. He studies food density to "maximize the amount of food that can go down with each contraction of the esophagus." And he studies which liquids are best at breaking down which foods. (Want to cut through the grease on those cheese fries, for example? Try lemonade.)

To keep his weight manageable, Hunt practices mostly by loading up on veggies. If he practiced only on high-calorie foods, he says, "I'd weigh 400 pounds." Actually, he weighs 175 pounds and is 6 feet 1 inch tall.

"My favorite things to do are eat, travel, and compete," Hunt says. "This sport combines all of those things."

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