Competitive eaters show big meals are no big deal

Ms Thomasina Ow before she tackled a 3.2kg burger with fries. PHOTO: FOOD LEAGUE SINGAPORE/FACEBOOK
Ms Ow, seen here after finishing the burger, often gets the question: "Where do all your calories go?" PHOTO: FOOD LEAGUE SINGAPORE/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Competitive eater Thomasina Ow often gets the question: "Where do all your calories go?"

A video of the slim 28-year-old eating a 3.2kg burger with fries amassed 7,400 views on Friday (April 22).

The burger was from The Beast, an American-style casual dining restaurant near Victoria Street. Ms Ow is one of the eaters managed by The Food League, which organises eating competitions.

The Food League serves as a bridge between competitive eaters and eateries. It conceptualises the food challenges and liaises with the eateries.

The Food League organised its first livestream challenge on Saturday. Held at 313 @Somerset, the event was a collaboration between The Food League and Hollerout, a mobile affiliate marketing app.

The challenge involved finishing three burgers served with straight cut fries from Wildfire Burgers + Bar in less than eight minutes.

For the challenges, eateries provides the food, which the competitive eaters have to finish within a time limit set by The Food League. The Food League records and uploads the videos on their Facebook page, helping to generate publicity for the eateries.

Ms Ow successfully completed The Beast Burger Challenge on Wednesday in just 43 minutes, making her one of only two Singaporeans who have successfully completed the challenge in the one-hour time limit.

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She is the highest ranking female competitive eater on The Food League's list of about 10 competitive eaters.

Besides shattering speed-eating records, she also challenges stereotypes.

Despite her love of food, she remains in good shape, standing at 1.68m tall and weighing only 50kg.

Ms Ow credits her trim physique to her high metabolic rate and the hectic nature of her job.

As a flight attendant, she works long shifts with irregular hours. She recalls having to report at the airport at 1am on a few occasions.

When asked if she exercises, she joked: "I hate exercise. I only exercise at work, when I walk from one country to another."

However, she is aware of the stigma against big eaters.

Growing up, she was "fat shamed", or made to feel insecure about her weight.

"I got called 'fishball'. People told me I was fat because I ate a lot."

Ms Ow, who has to deal with frequent charges that she has an eating disorder, sees competitive eating as a hobby.

Before the burger chow down, she took part in the Xiang Ji Mega Chicken Rice Challenge on April 13, an event sponsored by the chicken rice stall of the same name.

For both challenges, she did not have to pay for the food because she ate it all up before the time was up.

The Beast Burger, meant for four to six people,costs $125. The Mega Chicken Rice ($28), consisting of 2.2kg of rice and 800g of chicken, can feed 12 people.

She said: "It's a win-win situation: I get to eat for free and the eateries get publicity."

He works off what he eats

Another competitive eater managed by The Food League is Mr Zermatt Neo.

The personal trainer, 28, has been on the competitive eating scene since 2013.

That was the year he was named the Singaporean Champion of Ramen Champion's Ramen Big Eater Challenge, his first eating competition.

To win the challenge, he downed 11 bowls of tonkotsu ramen in 20 minutes.

Mr Neo, who has so far taken part in more than 20 eating competitions, is also active on YouTube, where he regularly shares videos of his eating exploits.

These include an XXL pepperoni pizza, 150 sticks of satay, 100 gyozas and 50 chicken wings.

His most popular YouTube video challenge - with more than 400,000 views currently - is of him tackling a 10,000-calorie "upsized version of the KFC bundle meal". The meal consisted of 20 pieces of fried chicken, eight cups of whipped potato, 24 chicken nuggets, 12 egg tarts and a 1.5-litre bottle of soft drink.

When he is not stuffing his face, Mr Neo hits the gym five to six times a week.

He does a combination of compound exercises (squats, bench press and deadlifting) as well as cardio-intensive activities like running and biking.

Although he finds competitive eating enjoyable, he does not recommend it.

"It's all about the calories- you need the discipline to work off the weight," he said.

He completed Saturday's challenge in seven minutes flat. It was an impressive feat, given that he wolfed down 300g worth of fries and three burgers that weighed 1.2kg in total.

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However, Mr Neo admits that he could have done better. He was feeling under the weather and had a blocked nose,which meant he had to stop and blow his nose during the challenge.

"My personal aim was to finish it in less than five minutes," he said.

Mr Neo was still game for more food. "I'll probably get some udon later," he added.

Mr Zermatt Neo after finishing the burgers for the showcase on Saturday at Wildfire Burgers + Bar. ST PHOTO: JESSIE LIM

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