Extreme Eating — Disgusting, or Appalling?

If you have never heard of mukbang (pronounced mook-bong), consider yourself lucky. We wish that we had not heard of it. Having been around — and gaining strength — for at least a decade, this is probably one of the most pathological phenomena affecting humans today. And, considering these crazy times, that is saying something.

The mukbang luminary is a professional binge eater. In a studio, or restaurant, or at home, he or she basically devours massive amounts of food while carrying on a one-sided conversation with the video viewer. The talk might be general, and of course, a lot of it is a verbal description of the food’s taste and texture. Or the mukbanger might zero in on one topic, like unsolved murders.

The professional consumer might specialize in a particular genre of food, like the popular seafood boil. Or there might be just one main dish, like a three-foot-tall hamburger, or a tabletop whose every inch is paved with junk food. The goal is to eat from 4,000 to as many as 10,000 calories in one sitting (although production techniques can yield various definitions of what constitutes a “sitting”). One fellow allegedly consumed 100,000 calories in 100 hours.

Who are these deviates?

They are young people of both sexes. Astonishingly, the one common trait of professional eaters is a lack of body fat. No famous mukbanger is obese. Some, especially the natives of Korea, are downright skinny, and one guy has a build that any male would envy. One used to be anorectic and after taking up his new profession, gained 80 pounds. Another star claims to keep his weight in check by exercising 12 hours per day.

If they are smart, they schedule regular checkups and lab tests. Regarding the status of their digestive systems, some give journalists more detail than most people would want, but true fans are there for it. Assessing one of the field’s stars, journalist Melissa Matthews notes that despite such massive consumption, he…

[…] really isn’t worried about his health because he eats plenty of greens outside of filming.

One thing is for sure — the performative eaters are not chewing each bite 80 times.

By the numbers

Sensible parents ask their ambitious offspring, “Yes, but this display of gluttony, how do you monetize it?” The star mukbangers have their own YouTube channels, with as many as six million subscribers. They are sponsored by restaurants and fast-food chains. They are paid for appearing in advertisements, and for their valuable endorsements of e-books and other products. One superstar makes more than $100,000 a year.

What about the O-word?

The South Korean authorities noted that around 26% of the nation’s boys were obese, and that the adult obesity rate had risen from 26% in 1998 to nearly 35% in 2016. A couple of years back the government made noises about putting mukbang in check, as part of a national anti-obesity regime, but not much seems to have happened on that front.

From the USA, Matthews quotes gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, M.D., on the effects these wildly popular videos have on the health of their viewers:

In a country with increasing amounts of obesity, this is not the correct message to send nor is this something to try at home.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “WTF is Mukbang and Why Should You Watch these Viral Korean Videos? An Explainer,” Fluentin3months.com, 03/22/19
Source: “These Viral ‘Mukbang’ Stars Get Paid to Gorge on Food — at the Expense of Their Bodies,” MensHealth.com, 01/18/19
Source: “South Korea to clamp down on binge-eating trend amid obesity fears,” Telegraph.co.uk, 10/25/18
Images by Keith Walbolt and Windell Oskay/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Presentations

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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