How can you describe the act of someone spending 23.49 minutes on Ganesh Chaturthi gobbling up 101 modaks and in the process, consuming close to 18,000 calories? While most of us won’t understand why this strange gastrointestinal feat aka "speed/competitive eating" even exists, for many around the world, eating ridiculously large quantities of food in a minimum amount of time is considered a sport.
In India, 21-year-old Sanket Sankpal has been eating way too much food since last year, catapulting him and his YouTube channel, Wake ’N’ Bite, to viral fame (205k subscribers). The final year Civil Engineering student’s first video from June 2017 saw him and his friend eat a square pizza in under 30 minutes. No biggie, you’d think. But this video racked up 205k views, making the Mumbai boy take his serious fascination for American food reality show Man v. Food to another level. What sets him apart from world champs (more known for wolfing down hot dogs) is his desi choice of food: vada pav (an alleged world record of eating one in 13 seconds—care to beat it?), samosa (one in 16 seconds), 50 chicken lollipops, 400 pani puris between him and his brother, and 2.4-litre Maaza (in 20 seconds). He often invites friends and family to join him, with his Mom vs. Dad challenges doing particularly well—the one with them eating pani puris got 7 lakh-plus views.
“I first tried singing and then dancing but wasn’t too good at either,” he tells VICE. “I wanted to do something fun on YouTube and randomly put up the pizza-eating video. It did really well, and no one was doing this in India. India mein khaane wale log kitne hai; khaane mein mazza hi kuch aur hai (India has so many eaters; there’s a different fun altogether in eating). People ask me why I do what I do. But it’s a different high altogether.”
Is there any guilt consuming absurd amounts of food in the name of entertainment in a world where many do not have access to even two square meals a day? “I get these kind of comments all the time, and they are legit ones,” he says. “But all of us consume too much of something or the other, at the cost of others getting it. Our way of combating that is donating food. We once donated 100 samosa pav, and we encouraged our subscribers to do it as well, even if it was just buying one samosa for someone. So many people are rich but do not do anything at all—so I don’t bother much about those who comment about wasting food because you don’t know what I do in my personal life.”
As he preps to place a massive KFC order for a video later that day, we had to ask: What was the competitive eating game plan?
1) An eater actually requires training though there’s no manual.
Stomach capacity is the make-and-break deal keeping you from wolfing down a ridic amount of, say, cupcakes. An adult stomach can usually hold about one liter of food but competitive eaters train it to stretch far beyond—sometimes up to seven times its natural resting capacity. “If you keep having lots of water, you can stretch that capacity,” says Sankpal. While some monster eaters use low-calorie but filling food to expand the capacity, many use water for its zero calorie and easy-to-process properties. Plus, it’s kinda free.
When you OD on food, what usually kicks in is the satiety reflex. That’s the one telling your brain you are full/want to throw up all over the damn place. Pros have to work to overcome this very reflex. “I usually watch videos of other professionals, and listen to their tips. Apart from the physical training, this is also a mind game. In my case, because I am making a video of the eating, I have to make sure I remain excited and energetic even if the food is making me dull or not feel good.” Reminds you of the time when the munchies hit and you ate 12 Nutella waffles and then proceeded to barf all over your friend’s shoes, doesn’t it? Oh, that’s just me? (Sorry, Sneha).
2) Water is their BFF. Not to hydrate but to lubricate.
Most competitive eaters dunk their food in water or have sips of warm water between bites to soften and lubricate the food, allowing it to be swallowed more easily. “I remember this one time we were doing a challenge that involved eating butter chicken and naan. By the time we finished taking shots of the food and my introduction, the naan had become very hard. We ate the chicken but the naan was ridiculously tough. Ultimately, I dunked it in water for some seconds before eating it.” Gross much?
3) The best competitive eaters are in great shape.
Look at the top eaters around the world and you will realize that most are in great shape or real skinny. “If you have stomach fat, it can actually hinder your ability to eat,” says Sankalp, who is 5 feet 7 inches, and weighs 70 kgs. Sankalp religiously hits the gym, with the only exception being when exams are around the corner. What’s important is what to put in your system when you are not competing or making YouTube videos. “I keep my meals homemade, healthy and light. Plus, traveling for four hours to and from college means I am on my feet for considerable amounts of time.”
4) They do eat on competition days.
“On days I do my videos, I drink coffee and have a biscuit for breakfast. Lunch is very light, with just one roti and sabzi. If you stay hungry then your stomach doesn’t accept food.”
5) The possibility of death by chocolate (or any other food) is real.
Kids, do not try this at home. Choking is the fourth-leading cause of unintentional injury death—and it happens with disturbing frequency at competitive eating events. According to a 2007 study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine: “Professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy. Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behavior.”
“The worst I’ve ever felt was after downing 1.3 kg honey in 1 minute 37 seconds,” says Sankpal. “I started saying rubbish after it because there was so much sugar in my system that it really hits you. I just went and slept for a bit.” Do you worry about your health, we ask him, or sign up for body check-ups to know about long-term damage? “Not yet,” he says. “I try keep really healthy rest of the year, and I know I need to check my sugar levels and generally get tested. But I’ve not seen my weight fluctuate, and apart from the few uncomfortable minutes after each video or feeling out of breath for a bit, I haven’t felt sick.”
6) You can actually make money stuffing your face.
“Competitive eating is still too new in India but over the past year, I have not only been able to stop taking pocket money from my parents, but also purchase the equipment I need for my videos (camera, background, lights, laptop) by myself, and save a little. If you put up 7-8 videos a month and have 1 lakh-plus views, you can easily make Rs 30,000-40,000 ($416-555 USD) a month. If your videos hit a million, the money can go up to even Rs 60,000 ($832 USD). If I get a good job after graduation, I will take it up and do this by the side. But if this does really well and I meet my goal of a million subscribers, I will do it full-time.”
For competitive eaters in the land of plenty (and plenty-wasting) America, earning big bucks is a bigger possibility. The mega popular Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest gets first-place winners $10,000 USD, and champions often end up making six figures a year.
7) You don’t get into this because you love food.
So, you claim that your love for good grub is real and infinite. If that’s the reason you want to get into speed eating, allow us to tell you that you will not enjoy your ration. A pizza might be fun for three, seven, ten slices. But after the 15th, you might not want to look at one for a long time to come. “Even if it’s something delicious I love, like pastry, I hate it by the end of it,” says Sankpal. “There is no chance that you will enjoy the food you will eat. This is not about taste at all. Don’t do this for the love of food. You don’t want to end up hating what you love.”
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.