Deep Inside Nathan's Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest

What the contents of one young competitive eater's stomach tell us about the great American tradition of eating to excess.

On the day of the big game, Joey Chestnut stepped up to the scale. He weighed in around 214 pounds. Ten minutes and 54 hot dogs later, Chestnut returned to the scales. He had just eaten the volume of a basketball and a third of the weight of a newborn Jersey cow. Doctors have found similar volumes of food in the stomachs of bulimics who ate themselves to death. What made Chestnut’s rapid weight gain so remarkable was not that he kept all 54 hot dogs down, but that he was still standing at all.

Eating competitions have been around since at least 1786—a boiled egg affair in New York—but Nathan’s Famous hot dogs traces the roots of its annual competition to 1916, when, as legend has it, a bunch of U.S. immigrants gobbled wieners in a patriotic showdown. Another 75 years would pass before Chestnut stepped onto the scales. What set the league of modern gurgitators in motion was the formation of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, a promotional organization created by George and Rick Shay 15 years ago. Eating competitions now range from calf brains and matzo balls to pickles and mayonnaise, but the ultimate in peristaltic revelry goes down on the Fourth of July at the Super Bowl of competitive eating at Coney Island. This year, women compete in a league of their own, so there will be not one, but two extreme eating bouts. They'll run back-to-back.

Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds, and you just happen to really like stuffing dozens of tubes of protein and watered-down buns down your esophagus. At some point—probably well before scarfing the week’s worth of calories that Joey Chestnut ate in 2010—you would start to gag. Even if you relaxed and got the dogs down, your stomach would become so acutely distended that it might rupture. If your stomach happened to be really elastic, it would still stretch so much that you’d look as if you were in your third trimester.

We know this because, in 2007, National Geographic produced an investigative special on competitive eating. The show paid Tim Janus, a competitive eater known as “Eater X,” to travel to Philadelphia to test his stomach. Janus was 29 years old and weighed 165 pounds. As a control, they found another guy, a 200-pound 35-year old who claimed to have a hearty appetite. Just for fun, we’ll call this guy Frank.

Dr. Marc Levine, a radiologist, put them both on a fluoroscopy table and asked them to ingest Boras, an effervescent agent, along with some high-density barium—standard procedure for anyone having some upper GI work done. That allowed the show's producers to watch real-time images as the two consumed hot dogs, also coated with barium. Levine admits the coating made the dogs less appetizing, but it was the only way to make them visible in the gut.

Frank submitted himself to examination first. Under the eye of the fluoroscope, Frank ate seven hot dogs. Then, he started feeling like you might feel if you had just scarfed seven hot dogs: He was full. The fluoroscopy confirmed the matter: His stomach was filled up. Janus went in next and started eating. He wasn’t slowing down, which made Levine worried. “We made him stop,” he told me. “We were watching the fluoroscope and we’re like, ‘We’ve seen how this works.’ I said to my colleague, David Metz, ‘If his stomach perforates, we’ll go down in history.’”

Levine has gone down in history—not for rupturing anyone’s stomach, but for publishing the only case study on competitive eating in the Journal of Roentgenology, which still makes his phone ring more than any cancer and diagnostic work he’s ever done. The study suggested that competitive eaters were able to accommodate so many hot dogs by expanding their minds as well as their stomachs. “He was basically able to overcome his satiety reflex,” Levine says. “When you or I eat that much, our brain tells us, ‘If we eat another bite, then we’ll barf it up.’ He told me this had taken a remarkable amount of willpower. It was an ‘athletic achievement.’”

Competitive eating is not a matter of size. It’s a matter of training your stomach to stretch and tricking your brain’s feeding control circuit—the system that sends out hunger signals and satiety signals—to let more stuff in. Normally, food settles in our stomach after a big meal and a couple glasses of wine and sends out chemical signals to the brain that tell us we’re done. As neuroscientist David J. Linden explains in The Compass of Pleasure, the circuit acts like a sort of faucet to control the flow of hunger and fullness.

Gurgitators have to train their brains to become less responsive to these messages, but here’s the thing: The rest of us could be inadvertently numbing our brains in much the same way. Chronic exposure to fatty, sugary foods can rewire the neural circuitry, which is hard to undo, Linden writes. That helps to explain why it’s difficult, if not impossible, to control your weight through willpower alone.

And despite our body’s remarkable ability for stomaching all sorts of things, the long-term consequences of competitive eating might end up looking a lot like end-stage diabetes. “One of the sacrifices you make in becoming a competitive eater is never getting full,” Levine told me. “So what happens when you’re 55, and you have the ability to consume all the ice cream or pizza in the world and never get full? How do you control yourself?”

Clearly, though, eating is about more than just biology—and the annual Fourth of July spectacle reflects some profound cultural truths about the way we consume food. Here's a parade of slender competitors, like Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya Thomas, who eat so much, so fast, and never seem to gain any weight. “There’s no explanation for it,” Adrienne Rose Johnson, a doctorate student at Stanford who’s written one of the few scholarly papers on the subject, collected in the forthcoming Making Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World, told me. “It’s like magic—a magical American myth. I think it speaks to people suffering from literal and symbolic consequences of consumerism.”

Whether or not you’ll be participating in the big gorge, it’s worth thinking about how an event that originated as a means for cultural assimilation plays into another enduring fantasy: Consuming without consequence. Frankly, that's just not possible. As Janus’ stomach suggests, the lingering effects of competitive eating lie just below the surface.

First x-ray image above shows an control subject's stomach after rapid ingestion of seven hot dogs. Bottom image shows a speed eater's stomach with 36 hot dogs. Images courtesy of Marc Levine via "Competitive Speed Eating: Truth and Consequences" ©2007 American Roentgen Ray Society.


The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.


Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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