FYI: Do Competitive Eaters Have Unusual Stomachs?

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Yes. Marc Levine, the chief of gastrointestinal radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, has found that a competitive eater’s stomach works more like an expanding balloon than a squeezing sac.

For his study, Levine recruited a professional eater, then ranked among the top 10 in the world, and a man who was 45 pounds heavier and four inches taller. He pitted the two against each other in a hot-dog-eating contest and used fluoroscopy, a real-time x-ray, to watch the two men’s stomachs. Levine immediately noticed something odd. Even when empty, our stomach—our entire digestive tract, in fact—makes a wavelike muscular contraction called peristalsis that helps move food through the body (scientists also call this anal propagation).

The competitive eater displayed almost no peristalsis. The regular guy stopped eating after just seven dogs—his stomach was full. The pro, however, was still going strong. After 10 minutes and 36 hot dogs, Levine asked him to stop. The pro’s stomach had stretched to the point that it took up most of his upper abdomen, and still there wasn’t much peristalsis.

By regularly forcing his body to consume past the point of fullness, Levine says, the pro’s stomach had adapted to expand. He never felt full, and by never feeling full his stomach showed very little muscle contraction. Experts still don’t understand this phenomenon.