Professional Eating Champions Who Were Seriously Injured

Popular eating championships such as Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and Wing Bowl have raised eating to a sport — a sport that requires practice and sacrifices as well as offers fame and money. The 2019 ESPN documentary 30 for 30: The Good, The Bad and The Hungry features two heavy hitters of the professional eating world: Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut. Anyone who has seen either champion devouring hot dogs would be curious to know more about their awe-inspiring dedication — and their arguably unhealthy lifestyle.

A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology (via USA Today) dubbed the sport self-destructive. The authors wrote, "We speculate that professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis [a disease in which the stomach cannot empty itself normally], intractable nausea and vomiting and even the need for a gastrectomy [surgical removal of part or all of the stomach]."

When studying competitive eater Tim Janus' body after he'd eaten 36 hot dogs, scientists at UPenn found that Janus' stomach no longer signaled his brain when full. It had been trained to lose that ability over time, and this alteration of the body's workings can have negative impacts in the future. Besides the long-term issues, professional eaters often face serious injuries that are unique to the sport. Here are some that could take the comfort out of your comfort food. 

Professional eating champion Takeru Kobayashi suffered from arthritis of the jaw

In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi ate a whopping 50 hot dogs in 10 minutes to create a new record at the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest held in Coney Island, New York. It was a single victory for him, but a giant leap for the professional eating world. For until that competition, no one had braved to choke down more than 25 hot dogs.

Watching Kobayashi eat is not for those who have a weak gut. A hot dog in his hands loses all its integrity. He separates the buns, dips them in water, and squeezes them before gulping them down, Business Insider explained. For the Japanese-born eater, the act of eating in a contest is far from having a meal; it's a sport. After every contest, he told People, his stomach expands so much that it actually shifts his lungs upward, leaving him short of breath.

Kobayashi still managed to place second (below Joey Chestnut) at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2007 mere days after he announced on his blog that he was suffering from arthritis of the jaw as a result of long-time strength training (via Slate). He couldn't even open his mouth comfortably, let alone swallow a hot dog. "Rather than the sudden trauma of an amateur, the Japanese eater's jaw distress seems to be a form of temporomandibula joint disorder either caused or exacerbated by sheer overuse of the jaw," Slate reported.

This professional eating champion suffered a stroke after a competition

In 1984, Mort Hurst ate 7.5 pounds of collards in 30 minutes to win the Ayden collard-eating contest in North Carolina — his hometown. Some three decades later, in 2017, he made a comeback at 68 years old, winning the same contest again.

Hurst was a top eater in the '80s, and an adventurous one at that. He ate a hot dog hanging upside down from a crane and one while nine feet underwater. All in the spirit of the sport — a sport that had him choke twice on food, and even pass out. One time, he chipped his tooth biting a pistachio shell, and another time, he accidentally stabbed his face with a fork. His systolic blood pressure has hit a life-threatening 252 (normal is 120/80). "It's like the top of your head is going to blow off," he told The News & Observer

In 1991, he set a world record by eating 38 soft-boiled eggs in 29 seconds. Only, this time his body said enough is enough and Hurst suffered a stroke. "It left him fighting slurred speech and slowed movement on the right side," reports The News & Observer. Cramming down large quantities of food at a lightning speed can do that. A study by Japanese scientists proved that fast eaters are more susceptible to stroke, heart attack, and diabetes compared to those who eat at a slower pace slowly (via The Telegraph).

Professional eating champion Sonya The Black Widow Thomas injured her throat while choking back shrimp

You may think of Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, but outside of the Marvel universe, Sonya Thomas holds the title. Thomas compares herself to the venomous spider as it devours the males of its species — a metaphor to express her desire "to eat more or faster than the men." In 2003, she shocked the professional eating circuit when she beat the four-time Wing Bowl (an eating contest that was once held in Philadelphia) champion Bill "El Wingador" Simmons (via The Atlantic). She has certainly devoured many a male contestants since.

In Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory on the Competitive Eating Circuit, Thomas opened up to author Ryan Nerz about the pain that accompanies the thrill of a competition. In 2004, after a glorious victory in Bacci Pizza Eating Championship, Thomas was left with a tired jaw and a cut on the roof of her mouth. She had eaten six and a half slices of pizza in 15 minutes, crushing Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, who had managed a little over five.

In a shrimp eating contest, Thomas suffered yet another cut, this time to her throat. Still, Thomas won by swallowing six and a half pounds of shrimp in just ten minutes. Thomas' injury, called pharyngeal abrasion, is a serious issue for someone whose profession is swallowing large quantities of food, as every swallow causes a maddening pain.

Professional eating champion Edward Cookie Jarvis experienced lockjaw during a competition

Edward "Cookie" Jarvis, according to Major League Eating, holds more titles than any other professional eater in the world. Between 2001 and 2006, he collected trophies on one side, gained weight on the other. There came a point when Jarvis, a thyroid cancer survivor, was unable to bend to tie his shoes. That's when he decided to retire , according to Deadspin.

In Eat This Book: A Year of Gorging and Glory on the Competitive Eating Circuitauthor Ryan Nerz describes what was a traumatic experience for Jarvis: the sweet corn eating contest of 2004. Jarvis suffered what is probably a nightmare for professional eaters: lockjaw in the middle of a speed-eating contest.

Nerz explained that Jarvis had participated in a deep-fried asparagus eating contest a day before he appeared in West Palm beach, Florida, ready to chomp down a load of sweet corn. But sometime after the 10th ear of corn, his jaw locked up. Unable to open his mouth wide, he began biting smaller rows off the cob and, at some point, used his fingers to rip the tiny kernels off and pop them into his mouth. It's safe to assume that the sweet corn was anything but sweet to Jarvis. Despite the impediment, though, he still won the contest. 

Dominick The Doginator Cardo retired from competitive eating after his health began to deteriorate

Dominick "The Doginator" Cardo ate over three pounds of pickled beef tongue in under 12 minutes at the Glutton Bowl — an eating championship aired on Fox TV. That remains the highlight of his career, though he has proven his prowess in gluttony by eating a gallon of ice cream in 10 minutes and devouring close to 20 hot dogs at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, according to the Post-Gazette.

As a professional eater, Cardo geared up for contests with a hard-to-fathom diet. A week-long preparation leading up to the event includes eating four pounds of food and over a gallon of water everyday. All that eating naturally doubled his weight. Cardo knew that the whole sport was unhealthy; he often got tired and out of breath.

Complicating matters further, he suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease in which the body's immunity power heightens to such an extent that it starts damaging body's tissues. "His arteries were halfway clogged, triggering chest pains. His stomach ached, and his doctor warned him to stop," according to CNN Health. In 2006, the champ ultimately decided to retire.

Professional eating champion Wayne Algenio suffered throat pain and stomach cramps after this spicy competition

A lot can go wrong when you eat the infamously hot Carolina Reaper chili pepper. Tears, screams, and sometimes, even an asthma attack — as was demonstrated in Youtuber Lizzy Wurst's video record of her and her friend's experience eating one (via Daily Mail).

Competitive eater Wayne Algenio, fueled by the desire to set a new world record, swallowed an incredible 22 fiery Carolina Reaper chilies in less than one minute. And, yes, he did make the record. Algenio told the New York Post that while he ate, the gush of adrenaline did not allow any pain to surface. "But once I stopped eating, a horrible burning in my throat started," he revealed. "I started screaming because it helped alleviate the pain in my throat. Then the stomach cramps started kicking in." Algenio's reaction is not entirely surprising, as the pepper has a Scoville rating of 2.2 million — some 300 times more than Tabasco sauce (via Daily Mail).

Maybe it was Algenio's resilience to spicy food or the excitement of making a Guinness World Record, but the Queens native had it easy compared to some of the others who have had life-threatening experiences after braving a tryst with the pepper. According one studya man who participated in a hot pepper contest had to be rushed to the emergency room after having a series of thunderclap headaches — a result of narrowed arteries caused by eating the pepper.

Professional eating champion and television personality Adam Richman found his tongue dangerously swollen after a hot wings challenge

While competitive eating gave Adam Richman a career lift, it also drove him into depression. As a food host for the popular Travel channel series Man v. Food that aired from 2008 to 2012, Richman's popularity rose with every new food challenge he took up — like the attempt to eat a 190-pound burger or a two-pound dessert with eight scoops of ice cream. Richman put on an incredible amount of weight, which sent him into depression (via Yahoo! News).

The challenges Richman faced on the show were sometimes more risky than entertaining. For example, a hot wings challenge in Sarasota, Florida, "almost killed him," AV Club revealed. The challenge seemed simple enough: eat 10 wings in 20 minutes without drinking milk. However, Richman only ate two before he called it quits and ran away from the cameras to the back of the restaurant and, of course, guzzled milk.

Richman, the AV Club report revealed, "remembers lying on a bathroom floor, his tongue and nasal passages dangerously swollen." Apparently, the hot sauce had a good amount of ghost chili extract, which led to Richman's condition. Richman's reaction couldn't be an exaggeration, as ghost peppers can cause upset stomach, nausea and vomiting, numbness and restricted breathing, according to Health. The scariest part: When you overeat ghost peppers, there is a chance that you'll burn a hole in your esophagus.