But the pattern of starving and gorging practiced by competitive eaters looks a lot like binge eating, says Marjorie Lang, a Mahattan-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As a result, competitive eaters up their chances of becoming obese and developing diabetes, high blood pressure, acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome, she says.
Potty humor, of course, is not lacking in the world of eating contests. And Pepto-Bismol has capitalized on the opportunity, having served as a sponsor of Chestnut and competitive eating events.
However, "it's not something to take lightly," Lang says. "It's not a fun process to go through ... Most people do wind up vomiting. They just don't show that on the TV."
Don Moses Lerman, who was on the competitive eating circuit from 2000 to 2006, compares the eating throwdowns to indulging at a buffet. You feel full, but you're back to normal in a few hours, he says.
And yet, Lerman is grappling with a thyroid condition he says began toward the end of his speed-eating days. When he started out, he weighed 142 pounds and had a 32-inch waist; six years later, he weighed 270 with a waist size of 50. He dropped the weight, but it inched back. (Lerman does not attribute his weight woes to competitive eating.) Now at 250 pounds, he tries to eat carefully – a daily diet might consist of Chinese takeout and two apples, he says.
And even though, at 64, he says, "I got to hang up my spoon," Lerman still competes on occasion. Why? "This is my talent," he says. "It may be a carnival sport, but it's a sport." And with that, of course, comes the glory of competition. "To win a trophy, it's a high you can't get from whiskey. It's unbelievable."
Meanwhile, these competitions may provide useful information about digestive health and "what the body can handle," says Eric Goldstein, a New York-based gastroenterologist. "Medical science develops because someone observes something out of the ordinary once or twice ... [these competitions] may mean something. I'm not sure what yet."
[Read: How to Have a Plant-Based BBQ.]