The Dark Side of Food Challenges: What You Need to Know

Posted on : November 6, 2023 by Clinic One Team on Blog

In July 2023, Bipin Kumar Paswan, a 25-year-old from Gopalganj in Bihar, passed away on Thursday after his friends challenged him to eat 150 momos.

Food challenges have gained popularity worldwide, including in Nepal. People in these food-eating contests consume large amounts of food in a short period of time. While these contests may seem like harmless fun, they have serious health consequences. 

Food challenges have gone viral throughout TikTok and YouTube recently and have captured the interest of most people worldwide. Those food-eating competitions promise fame, amusement, and mainly cash prizes to those who finish food in a given duration of time.

In such challenges, participants eat a range of foods such as great burgers, fiery chicken wings, whole-grilled spicy chicken, and momos. These foods are generally hard to digest. However, there may be a more serious truth hidden under this pleasure, and these food challenges can be harmful to our health.

Let’s explore the consequences of food-eating contests, highlighting real-life examples with techniques for maintaining a healthy relationship with food.

Did you know, “According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, choking is one of the biggest risks faced by anyone who participates in any type of eating contest”. 


Effects

Food challenges, where participants consume large quantities of food in a short period of time, can have several adverse effects on the participants’ health. According to a 2007 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, professional speed eaters can get obesity, significant gastroparesis, persistent nausea, and vomiting.  Some of them might need a gastrectomy in the long run. Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating can be a self-destructive behavior. 


Choking

Eating foods rapidly and competitively will increase the probability of choking on partially chewed or unswallowed foods. Choking can be life-threatening because of the limited time available for consumption and the pressure to eat fast. 


Stomach Stretching

Competitive eaters get training to enlarge their stomach ability, which may result in permanent stretching of the stomach. This will affect gastric emptying, the technique by using which food moves from the stomach into the duodenum. 


Nausea and vomiting

Quickly eating large quantities of foods can weigh down the digestive system and trigger feelings of nausea. Contestants may also vomit at some stage in or after the competition due to the strain on their stomach and gastrointestinal system. 


Gastric Ruptures 

Eating a large amount of food in a short period of time can put stress on the stomach walls, potentially leading to gastric ruptures or tears. This is a severe medical emergency that may require a surgical procedure to repair. 


Heartburn and Diarrhea 

The intake of spicy, greasy, and acidic foods in food-eating contests can result in heartburn and diarrhea. Additionally, abrupt changes in dietary habits can lead to digestive upset, leading to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.


Food eating disorders 

Repeated participation in food-eating contests may lead to the development of eating disorders, which include binge eating disorders. Frequent organization of these contests can normalize overeating and unhealthy eating styles. This may additionally have long-term effects on participants’ physical and mental well-being.


Real examples of health consequences of Food contests

  • A British mother of two is reported to have choked to death in October 2023 while competing in a marshmallow eating contest to raise money for her son’s rugby club. 
  • In April 2017, a 20-year-old college student and a 42-year-old Colorado man died in separate choking events related to eating contests, one involving pancakes and the other involving doughnuts. 
  • A 14-year-old Japanese boy choked to death during a school food competition with friends in 2002.  
  • In 2004, a 36-year-old Canadian man choked to death after participating in a chicken wing eating contest in Regina, Saskatchewan.  
  • In late 2012, a Florida guy choked and died after a bug-eating contest.  
  • Bipin Kumar Paswan, a 25-year-old from Gopalganj in Bihar, passed away on Thursday after being challenged by his friends to eat 150 momos in July 2023.
  • Harrison Odour Ouma, a 16-year-old boy from Kenya’s Busia district, died after choking during a bread-eating competition at Sikura Primary School in December 2023.
  • More than 20 eating-competition deaths have been documented since 2010, according to the Eat Feats Database. 


How to maintain a good relationship with food? 

  • Practice mindful eating: Mindful eating involves being present in the moment while eating and paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. It can help to develop a better understanding of your body’s necessity and prevent overeating. 
  • Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals contributes to overeating over a period of time and disturbs your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. 
  • Avoid restriction diets: Restrictive diets can lead to an unhealthy connection with food and may deprive your body of essential nutrients. Instead, encourage moderation and balance. 
  • Include all food groups in your diet: A healthy diet includes foods from all dietary groups. This ensures that your body receives all the nutrients it requires. 
  • Practice relaxed eating: Relaxed eating involves prioritizing preferences over positions and practicing food balance and flexibility. This can help you feel more comfortable with food and avoid developing rigid eating habits. 


Conclusion

Remember that food-eating contests, by definition, include risk, and it is critical to prioritize participant health and safety. Responsible practices can help decrease the potential harm involved with these events while allowing participants to enjoy them.

Food-eating competitions are not recommended for the typical individual, and organizers should inform the participants about potential health concerns involved with such activities. Furthermore, organizers and contenders should take care to protect participant safety and well-being, as well as promote responsible eating practices. 


References: 

Collier, R. (2013). Competitive consumption: Ten minutes. 20 000 calories. Long-term trouble? CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, 185(4), 291–292. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4397 

Competitive consumption: Ten minutes. 20 000 calories. Long-term trouble? - PMC. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3589306/ 

Competitive Eating / Drinking Deaths | EatFeats. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2023, from https://eatfeats.com/category/eating-in-general/health/fatalities 

Levine, M. S., Spencer, G., Alavi, A., & Metz, D. C. (2007). Competitive speed eating: Truth and consequences. AJR. American Journal of Roentgenology, 189(3), 681–686. https://doi.org/10.2214/AJR.07.2342 

Natalie Buss ‘chokes to death’ in marshmallow-eating contest. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2023, from https://nypost.com/2023/10/11/uk-mom-chokes-to-death-in-marshmallow-eating-contest/ 

 

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