The Untold Truth Of Competitive Eater Sonya Thomas

Those who are even passingly familiar with the strange world of competitive eating are probably familiar with the impossibly talented Joey Chestnut, as well as his nemesis, Takeru Kobayashi, who revolutionized the hot dog-eating game while looking like a lithe protagonist of a "Final Fantasy" game. However, if you look a little bit deeper, you will find an even more exciting eating pro: Sonya Thomas, the Black Widow. 

Thomas is such a big deal that her Major League Eating profile begins with parables of prophecies and comparisons to Joan of Arc. This is no surprise when you take into account the fact that she weighs just 105 pounds, yet somehow manages to destroy food at the same speed as his nigh-invariably larger compatriots. Per The Post Game, in 2011 she even managed to beat the great Chestnut himself in a wing eating contest. But who, exactly, is this diminutive crowd favorite who has smashed all sorts of records, and has eaten a permanent place in the hearts of fans? Let's take a look at the untold truth of competitive eater Sonya Thomas.

Thomas has a surprising (yet fitting) day job

Thomas competes in an activity that tends to attract traditional big eaters of the large-framed variety, which makes it all the more incredible to see the tiny "Black Widow" demolish opponents thrice her size (via The Washington Post). However, Thomas also works with food in more ways than just stuffing copious amounts of it in her stomach: Thomas has supplemented her competitive eating income with a day job as a manager at the Burger King at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland — or, rather, the other way around. She has also stated that she wants to own a fast food joint of her own one day.

Incidentally, Burger King became a fairly influential factor in Thomas' training because she'd been a fairly modest eater in her youth, but as she started working there, she developed a penchant for big eating — though only once a day. She has been known to work her stomach by eating a single meal a day ... but said meal reportedly consists of ten Burger King chicken tenders, large fries, a mayo-less Grilled Chicken Sandwich, and three 42-ounce Diet Cokes that she says worked wonders in training her stomach to expand.

Thomas has been targeted with speculation of an eating disorder

When Thomas started making a name for herself, many were baffled by her ability to wolf down incredible amounts of food despite her size, leading some to speculate that she may be struggling with an eating disorder (per The Washington Post). "She's just so small. I wonder how she keeps it all down," Mark Kantor, associate professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland, opined in 2005. "It wouldn't surprise me if she was bulimic. After the time limit has expired, she may just throw it all up." 

On the other hand, Mental Floss notes that Thomas' lean frame is simply a tactical advantage since she doesn't have any extra belly fat pushing against her stomach. But Thomas, for her part, has heard it all before. She insists that eating disorders have nothing to do with her technique, and scoffs at the insinuation. "They don't understand how you can expand inside the stomach, how you can train," she explained.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Thomas keeps things healthy between contests, but says she doesn't really train

Common sense dictates that there are two main approaches to eating tons of often greasy food for a living: You either have to love eating copious amounts of unhealthy stuff from the bottom of your heart, or you need to approach the whole thing as a challenge. Per her interview with Cleve Scene, Thomas buys into the latter philosophy, and when she's off duty, her eating habits are nothing short of super-healthy. "Seafood is my favorite," Thomas revealed. "I like to eat vegetables, fruits, and sushi. I don't like eating sweets. I'm not crazy about them."

On her official website, Thomas has noted that she doesn't really train for her contests, though she does try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. "I don't [really prepare]," she shared. "For the first two years, if I was totally unfamiliar with the kind of food I was to be eating, I would sometimes practice my speed and technique for one or two minutes, but, since 2005, I have not trained at all."

Thomas does, however, admit to a training program of sorts. "I do aerobic exercise when I can," she continued. "I'm also very physically active on my job — little sitting down or standing around — which helps keep my metabolism 'revved up.'" Compare this to the arduous training program of Takeru Kobayashi, and you can only wonder at Thomas' sheer natural talent.

A fellow competitive eater inspired Thomas to take up pro eating

They say you should never meet your idols, but Thomas not only met hers — she actually competed against the guy. Thomas knew early on that she had all the pieces for the competitive eating puzzle, but she didn't really know what to use her talent for until she saw eating legend Takeru Kobayashi in action. "Since I was a child, I have always had a good appetite, an active metabolism, and a burning desire to win," Thomas tells on her official website. "But not until I witnessed the greatest eater of all time — Takeru Kobayashi — eat 50 Hot Dogs in 2002, via my TV set, did it dawn on me that the sport was right up my alley, so to speak."

To say that Thomas seized the moment is an understatement. Per CNN, Thomas competed against her idol a mere two years later at the 2004 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Though Kobayashi took the throne with a decisive 53.5 hot dogs in 12 minutes, Thomas put in an impressive showing to reach third place, breaking the women's world record by consuming 32 dogs. Talk about coming in hot!

Thomas holds an absurd number of world records

Before the Nathan's Famous championship was divided into Women's and Men's divisions in 2011 and Thomas took home the inaugural Nathan's Famous Female Hot Dog Eating Championship (per Major League Eating), the Black Widow competed largely against men. While Thomas herself is walking proof that gender and physical size have absolutely nothing to do with the ability to consume food at a championship level, this means that during this time, she did habitually take on absolutely everyone who was willing to eat against her ... and she managed to rack up an incredible amount of eating records doing so. 

Thomas reportedly holds an incredible array of 21 records from all sorts of eating contests. She has conquered quesadillas, various types of hamburger, crawfish, and even deep-fried okra at the absolute top level. According to her official website, she's particularly proud of her variety of seafood records, with her incredible 2012 record of 564 oysters in eight minutes topping her list of personal favorites.