HARTFORD -- Inside the new Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ in Hartford, three eager beavers became the first team to “Challenge the Bear” last month. Their goal: out-eat Jamie “The Bear” McDonald, owner of the restaurant for a $1,000 prize.
“I’m just going to eat as much as I can as quick as possible,” said Ben Sanorski, 27, of Hebron.
His teammate Leroy Herr said, “My strategy is just sheer will I guess.”
“Small bites, that’s about it,” said Andrew King, 34. “I can drink like three pints of Guinness right after the other, so I figure there’s some room in there.”
The trio had ten minutes to eat 2 pounds of brisket apiece. When the clock ran out, victory belonged to The Bear. He ate more than 6 pounds of meat--more than his three challengers combined.
“I can’t even imagine like how he did it. His stomach must be so big,” said Sanorski. In fact, it is. The Bear’s done this sort of thing a few hundred times. He was once ranked the top independent competitive eater in the world.
“During my first year of competing, I made just over $70,000 in competing. That’s how I started my first restaurant,” he said, adding that while he is now more focused on his two restaurants, he likes to keep up his reputation through YouTube dares.
His 100th YouTube challenge: eat an 8-pound s’more.
The night before each contest or challenge, the Bear literally expands his belly. “You want as much room as possible. You don’t want fluid in there. You don’t want food in your stomach, nothing,” McDonald said of his preparations. “So last night, I stretched by eating 4 to 5 pounds of broccoli, cauliflower, and then I’ll drink a gallon of water.”
“You’re basically just taking up space with a lower fat food,” explained Dr. Lisa Rossi, a gastroenterologist based at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford.
She said she understands how the Bear’s strategy works, but said she and the human body are not fans of purposeful gorging. “When you eat that much food in a short period of time, first of all, it’s not going to make its way through the stomach, and it’s actually going to pile up in the stomach and probably up into the esophagus,” Rossi said, adding that a food challenge, especially one with s’mores, makes her cringe.
“As the competition is going on, the marshmallows that are already in there might actually be expanding and that could put you more at risk for something like a rupture,” Rossi said.
McDonald has a method to his munching. “Just like any other type of activity, if you want to perform at a high level, it takes a lot of training,” he told Fox CT. “A lot of work. Like, I chew gum all day every day just so I have strength for some of these contests. You stretch your stomach every day. It’s just like any other muscle.”
The Bear prepares mentally, too, for the inevitable moment he hits the wall.
“If you’re going to be a champion competitive eater, you got to have the mental ability to push yourself,” McDonald said. “I compare it to lifting weights.”
In his s’more challenge, McDonald began to struggle after he polished off all the graham crackers, but faced a large chunk of melted marshmallow. “Your muscles are screaming and you just want to stop and it’s almost like same ability--where you push it that few extra laps, in this case, those few extra bites and you finish,” he said.
Even so, Dr. Rossi’s prediction was correct. The Bear tossed in the napkin a little more than 25 minutes in, defeated by sugar. “As time went on, I could feel it like actually expanding in my stomach and it just, like right now, it hurts,” said McDonald, immediately after the s’more challenge.
Rossi said, “The stomach is elastic, and in the most extreme capacity, you know, it could probably accommodate a couple of liters of fluid.”
That’s about 4.5 pounds. The Bear gobbled up about 7 pounds of s'mores, and 6 pounds when he battled with brisket.
Rossi said the stomach capacities and chomping abilities of competitive eaters have some interest in the medical research world. “Is it something intrinsic to that person’s stomach? Or is it just the repetitive, over-distension that they’re able to eat more and more?” she said.
Despite raised eyebrows, McDonald won’t be giving up his hobby anytime soon, though another challenge this sugary is out of the question.
“That will be the first and only time I ever do an 8-pound s’more,” said McDonald.