07/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Stop Competative Eating Contests! Mindful Eaters are True Winners

The annual event, Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest, is coming up next week. It is my sincere hope that someday eating contests like this might be put to an end.

Watching eating contests are a little like witnessing a train wreck. You can hardly tear your eyes away from the disturbing image of contestants stuffing 50+ hot dogs in their faces in 10 minutes. Over 30,000 people watched the event live and 1.5 million on TV. Another 100,000 people watched the event from after it was over.

It's interesting that a behavior like mindless overeating, which most people work years to overcome and contributes to one of the largest health concerns in America, is embraced, glorified and rewarded in these contests. Some contests award thousands of dollars to the competitors. In fact, there is a national association in support of competitive eating.

Of particular concern is how triggering these events are to people who have eating disorders. After the event, one of my psychotherapy clients discussed her reaction to watching the event on TV. The woman had struggled with Binge Eating Disorder for twenty years. To her, the contest was like a glorified binge, something that was not fun, but had caused years of shame, health problems and emotional pain. She likened eating contests to pornography. Some people find it entertaining but to those involved in the making of it and other women, it can be harmful.

We have to wonder what kind of example competitive eating contests set? How do they contribute to the millions of people who struggle with binge eating disorder and mindless eating all over the world? Although not all eating contests are on ESPN or get national sponsors, they make their way into county fairs and cafeterias -- where kids bet each other to see who can eat the most French fries.
I believe that learning to manage your eating habits is one of the most important life skills you can have. It's not easy. We have to fight each day to do it well in such a warped eating world that televises and rewards people for bingeing on food.

So, the next time you find yourself unable to tear your eyes away from a competitive eating contest, consider whether you want to support this dangerous sport that glorifies mindless overeating eating. Instead, we should be cheering on and televising people who are truly good examples of mindful eaters -- a real accomplishment in this mindless eating world.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is author of Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and an AOL Diet & Fitness coach. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health and Self Magazine. Visit Albers online at