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Friday, June 14, 2024

After Keenan “Ginger Chestnut” Bailey won The Swamp Restaurant’s first hot dog eating contest Friday by scarfing down nine hot dogs in 10 minutes to take home the grand prize of $100, a $50 certificate to the restaurant and a silver plate with his name engraved, he said he felt just fine.

Although Bailey only needed a little Pepto-Bismol to keep him feeling that way, competitive eating is not always so benign.

Natalie Rella, a health promotion specialist at GatorWell, said competitive eating is an unhealthy behavior that contradicts the intuitive eating philosophy GatorWell promotes. Intuitive eating is when a person eats when he or she is hungry and stops when he or she is full.

“When you’re engaging in competitive eating, the basis of that is stuffing yourself beyond the point of being full, and that’s just not healthy behavior,” Rella said.

A 2007 study conducted by doctors at the University of Pennsylvania found competitive eating to have various negative effects on the human body.

The study asked two men —  a competitive eater and a noncompetitive-eater — to eat as many hot dogs as he could in 12 minutes.

The competitive eater, researchers found, was able to eat so much so fast because he overcame the satiety reflex, which communicates to the brain that the body is full.

His upper abdominal area was occupied by what looked like a distended, food-filled sac, a result of little or no peristalsis, which is the squeezing motion that helps the body break down food.

The study concluded that competitive eating “is a potentially self-destructive form of behavior,” which in the long term could lead to unmanageable nausea and vomiting, morbid obesity and even the need for a gastrectomy, a surgical procedure where part of the stomach is removed.

Competitive eating also poses immediate risks. This is why Major League Eating, an organization that oversees professional eating contests, has emergency medical technicians at all official contests.

The Swamp Restaurant didn’t have any medical staff at its hot dog eating contest.   Nick Smith, the restaurant’s general manager, said the participants, one of whom was more than 60 years old, were “borderline exhausted” after the contest.

“They didn’t realize how tired they would be,” he said. “I know some of them had to take a few minutes to lay down and rest.”

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Bailey, the big winner, can consider himself fortunate, and he may have his enthusiasm to thank for his well-being.

“I thought I was gonna feel terrible, but afterwards, I went to a pool party. And even if I did feel terrible, I would’ve rallied. It was the Fourth of July!”

[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 7/10/2014 under the headline "Eating to win eats away at your health"]

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