Twenty-five in twelve. That was the benchmark. That was the mark to beat up until one rookie made his debut at Nathan's Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4th, 2001. At his inaugural event, Takeru Kobayashi ate at such a blistering pace that the judges ran out of signs to indicate how many hot dogs he had eaten, and resorted to handwritten signs. At the end of twelve minutes, Kobayashi had polished off fifty hot dogs and fifty hot dog buns, nearly doubling the previous record.
How did he do it? How did he eat so many hot dogs? He did it by rethinking competitive eating. According to Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics, instead of asking how many hot dogs he could fit into his stomach, Kobayashi, asked, "how can I make one hot dog easier to eat?"
What can we learn from a competitive eater? Kobayashi's feat demonstrates that the limits of how much we can eat is not necessarily based on the capacity of our stomachs but how fast we eat. The faster we consume, the more we consume. Therefore, a strategy of slowing down the consumption of calories can curtail the excessive consumption of calories. A deeper analysis of the strategies Kobayashi used to speed up his eating can provide insight for those interested in watching their caloric intake:
1. Eat Whole FoodKobayashi accelerated his eating by breaking his hot dogs in half with his bare hands before putting them into his mouth. This strategy reduced chewing time and was later coined "The Solomon method". To slow down excessive food consumption, eat whole foods in their whole form, and thoroughly chew your food.
2. Avoid Processed FoodAnother reason Kobayashi was able to eat so quickly is because the food he ate was processed. The buns he consumed were made of refined flour and devoid of fiber. Refined carbohydrates are not only easier to eat, they are rapidly emptied from the stomach at approximately 10 calories per minute. In other words, they go down fast and go out fast, leaving the eater hungry again. Processed hot dogs are more aptly called fat dogs, as they are typically made up of twice as much fat as they are protein. And while fat can enhance satiety (emptying from the stomach at 2 calories per minute), it also serves as a lubricant. Hot dogs go down fast even without the aid of water. If Kobyashi had competed in a steak eating contest instead, he wouldn't have been able to eat nearly as fast. Unprocessed lean protein takes much longer to chew. It also empties slowly out of the stomach, at approximately 4 calories per minute.
3. Enjoy FoodKobayashi distinguishes competitive eating from typical eating. To him, competitive eating is a mechanical race to the finish, much like a foot race. He doesn't appreciate the sensory pleasures of what he is eating when he is in a food competition. He doesn't have time. So often, we catch ourselves eating on the run or rushing through a meal. And yet, one of life's greatest pleasures is sitting down and enjoying a meal. Instead of rushing to finish your meal, sit down and enjoy your meal. Sit down with family and friends at the dining table and enjoy a shared meal. Spend at least thirty minutes in conversation over your shared meal. This will afford adequate time for your satiety signals to kick in, which will in turn curtail overeating. Try sharing these homemade breakfast sausages at your next family meal!
Kessler, David A. 2009. The end of overeating: taking control of the insatiable American appetite. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale.