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Competitive eater Kobayashi says health, lack of hunger caused retirement

Japanese competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi won six Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contests. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 5 | Japanese competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi won six Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contests. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- Health issues and an overall lack of hunger are the main reasons Takeru Kobayashi decided drop the his buns and hot dogs and retire from competitive eating, he announced on Netflix.

Kobayashi estimated on the streaming service's documentary, Hack Your Health-The Secrets of Your Gut, that he ate at least 10,000 hot dogs during his career. His wife, Maggie James, said he has sometimes gone days without eating and that his body is broken.

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"I am Japanese, but I've eaten like an American," Kobayashi said. "I think that's what damaged my body."

The 46-year-old was a six-time winner of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, winning those crowns consecutively from 2001 through 2006.

Known as the "Tsunami" and Godfather of Competitive Eating," Kobayashi also held records for eating other foods, including meatballs and Twinkies.

He nearly doubled the hot dog eating record in 2001, when he scarfed down 50 in 12 minutes. He broke his own record the next year, when he swallowed another half of a hot dog. Kobayashi broke the record two more times, with 53 1/2 in 2004 and 53 3/4 in 2006.

Reigning champion Joey Chestnut won 16 of the next 17 hot dog eating titles. He ate a record 76 in 10 minutes in 2021.

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Kobayashi last competed in the contest in 2009. He stopped competing in the event because of a contract dispute, and he was arrested at the 2010 contest after rushing the stage. His charges of resisting arrest, trespassing and obstructing governmental administration were later dropped.

Kobayashi also has gone on record about a beef with Chestnut, alleging that he cheated during his record eating run. He claims that Chestnut is eating smaller hot dogs and hasn't always eaten entire foods during other eating contests.

Chestnut, who has said he tried to emulate Kobayashi and called him a "more graceful" eater.

Kobayashi, who used food to expand his stomach to prepare for eating contests, said he is now on a mission to develop a healthier hot dog. He underwent medical tests during the Netflix documentary, which found that his eating regimen impacted his nervous system and brain activity.

"I hear people say they're hungry, and they look very happy after they've eaten," Kobayashi said. "I'm jealous of those people because I no longer feel hunger."

The 2024 hot dog eating contest will be held July 4 in Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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