Competitive Eating

Last week’s episode of Bones featured competitive eating (see the clip for "The Gluttony Games"), something I have to admit I’ve never understood. In the show, Booth commented that it “really is a sport”, since people train for it, compete, and win trophies as well as quite a bit of money if they’re good enough. But this is the part I don’t understand. Why do you want to do that? And why is it fun to watch?

Bones said that societies have had eating games for millennia to use as a show of abundance. But surely there can be other ways of displaying that than gorging to death, as some Romans did.

Perhaps my struggle is because this is the absolute antithesis of what the “Am I Hungry?” program teaches, as well as what I would counsel people from a health coach perspective. When eating competitively, the last thing you want to do is eat mindfully. The goal is actually to not chew your food, simply get it down your throat as quickly as possible. If you paused to savor and taste it, you’d be out in no time flat.

Then there’s the whole overeating aspect. In the episode, the agents went to a competition, and the winner had eaten fifty-six hot dogs in a matter of minutes (I think 12). I can’t imagine eating five or six hot dogs in that time. Even if I think of eating something I prefer of around the same size, say a banana, I would feel absolutely terrible afterward, bloated and uncomfortable and probably literally sick. It would take me days to recover. Why would I want to do this? (Admittedly, some of the people in the clip commented that they “purge” afterward, but that seems almost nastier to me.)

For the competitive eaters, as with any competition, I suppose I can understand that if they’re good at it and it makes good money, they would want to pursue that. But where is the joy in watching people eat that way? Bones and Booth were both getting into it, yet I found my stomach turning. Is it the morbid fascination of watching a car wreck? Is it sheer amazement of what the human body is capable of? It all eludes me.

Yet much as I don’t understand the idea, it’s something that most Americans indulge in at least once a year, if on a less intense scale - Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s not quite a competition, but many people certainly pile their plates high, seeing how much they can fit in. Even those who are generally instinctive eaters may get caught up in the indulgence, eating well past the point of satiation. I remember, for instance, when my niece was 10, she ate so much that she unbuttoned her jeans and just laid in a heap on the floor, moaning and holding her stomach. (I will say, though, that I’ve never seen her do that again - apparently she didn’t enjoy it.)

Whatever the reason this is a popular sport, it’s not one in which I plan to participate or watch. I’ll find my competition elsewhere if I want it, and stick to the simpler, easier enjoyment of savoring my food, one bite at a time, and appreciating feeling better after I eat than I did before I started.

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