Competitive Eater Retires Due To Serious Health Issues: “I No Longer Feel Hunger”

John Lamparski / WireImage via Getty Images

Japanese competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi has recently announced his retirement from the sport due to escalating health concerns.

The decision, disclosed during the documentary Hack Your Health – The Secrets of Your Gut on Netflix, sheds light on the intricate relationship between food, the digestive system, and gut health and the toll that competitive eating has taken on Kobayashi’s well-being.

“I’ve decided to retire from competitive eating. It’s all I’ve done for the last 20 years,” Kobayashi revealed.

The Toll of Competitive Eating

Decades of relentless overeating for sport have left Kobayashi with severe health repercussions. His body’s diminished capacity to feel hunger or fullness has led to days without any food intake, as shared by his wife Maggie James. In his own words, Kobayashi expressed that his body feels “broken,” illustrating the profound impact of his competitive eating career on his physical health.

Though he can remember experiencing cravings as a child, he can now go for three days without realizing that he hasn’t eaten.

“I hear people say they’re hungry, and they look very happy after they’ve eaten. I’m jealous of those people because I no longer feel hunger. I hope to live a long and healthy life.”

A Remarkable Career

Kobayashi’s journey in competitive eating began in 2000 when he consumed 16 bowls of ramen in one hour on the Japanese variety show “TV Champion.” According to USA Today, one of his most notable feats is setting a world record at the 2001 Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest by devouring 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, a record that he held for six consecutive years. Not limited to hot dogs, Kobayashi has set records with a variety of foods, from Buffalo wings to hamburgers, reflecting the breadth of his competitive eating prowess.

“I’m sure that I’ve eaten 10,000 hot dogs since the beginning of my career,” Kobayashi shared in the documentary. “I am Japanese but I’ve eaten like an American. I think that’s what damaged my body, I overeat because I’m a competitive eater…When you eat too much, you don’t savor the taste or fully enjoy the smell of the food. You ignore your body’s signals, like fullness.”

Takeru Kobayashi- Winner with 53 3/4 hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)
Takeru Kobayashi- Winner with 53 3/4 hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes Photo: Bobby Bank / WireImage via Getty Images

The Impact on Body and Mind

The documentary, released last month on April 26, uncovers the detrimental impact of Takeru Kobayashi’s chronic overeating on his nervous system and brain, resulting in a diminished sense of pleasure in eating and an impaired appetite.

Throughout the film, Kobayashi underwent various tests to diagnose his lack of appetite and reduced sense of smell, leading doctors and scientists to conclude that his prolonged history of overeating has significantly affected his nervous system. Moreover, his brain continues to exhibit behaviors associated with competition or the consumption of highly processed foods, despite his withdrawal from competitive eating.

“I used to crave cakes and curries when I was little. I don’t feel that joy about eating anymore. It’s scary to think that the brain and gut are so closely related. It makes me want to be more careful with what I eat.”

Moving Forward

While Kobayashi bids farewell to competitive eating, he remains committed to revolutionizing the industry. His mission to create a healthier hot dog featuring traditional Japanese ingredients demonstrates his enduring passion for food and innovation. Despite the challenges ahead, Kobayashi expresses both concern and excitement about his future endeavors beyond the realm of competitive eating.

“What’s influenced me more than competitive eating is the hot dog. I am worried about what my next step will bring, but I am also excited about my future.”

Kobayashi’s decision to pivot towards promoting healthier food options reflects a positive step towards mitigating the adverse effects of this sport on both athletes and the wider community.

Watch the trailer for Hack Your Health – The Secrets of Your Gut below.