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How many meatballs are too many?

There is no feast like a Thanksgiving feast. The best food, the best cooking and the best family gatherings of the entire year all come together on Thanksgiving Day. As a boy I was overwhelmed by all the good food, couldn't turn down anything and tended to eat until it hurt. I've tried to mature as an eater as I've grown older, but I haven't matured as much as I've grown older. As it is, Thanksgiving Day is not a day for dieting. I hope your Thanksgiving was more thankful than painful.

There's one guy you wouldn't want to invite for your Thanksgiving dinner. His name is Joey Chestnut. I noted a news article early in November that the Martorano's Masters World Meatball Eating Championship took place in Las Vegas, and that Joey Chestnut ate 50 meatballs in 10 minutes to win the contest.

Curious, I checked to see what kind of nut Joey "Jaws" Chestnut is. It turns out he is a professional competitive eater, ranked No. 1 by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. He is a 26-year-old, six-foot-tall, 218-pound engineering student from San Jose, Calif.

Chestnut hit the big time in 2007 when he defeated six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, a mere 160 pounder, on the 4th of July at Nathan's Famous Frankfurters 92nd Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y. by consuming 66 hot dogs (with buns) in 12 minutes for a new world record. The following year, Chestnut and Kobayashi were tied after 10 minutes with 59 hot dogs apiece. For a tie breaker, each contestant was given a plate with five hot dogs and the first to finish was the winner. Chestnut wiped out the last five in 50 seconds to win. This year, again on the 4th of July, Chestnut won for the third consecutive year, setting a new world record with 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Chestnut now holds 15 world records in professional eating. He got his professional start in 2005 by eating 6.3 pounds of deep fried asparagus in 11.5 minutes and he's been going strong ever since. Some of his more impressive feats include 241 chicken wings in 30 minutes to win the Wing Bowl XVI, 103 Krystal hamburgers in eight minutes, 118 jalapeno peppers in 10 minutes, 23 8-ounce waffles in 10 minutes, 9.8 pounds of pork rib meat in 12 minutes, 4.5 pounds of steak (plus sides) in eight minutes 52 seconds, one Heart Attack Grill 8,000-calorie "Quadruple Bypass" burger in one minute 47 seconds, 10.5 pounds of macaroni and cheese in seven minutes, one five-pound, 17-inch burrito in three minutes, 10 seconds and 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes. In case you're wondering, if a contestant vomits he is disqualified.

Some of Chestnut's main competitors besides Kobayashi are "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, "Badlands" Booker and "Cookie" Jarvis. Chestnut has won over $200,000 in cash prizes plus two vehicles and a motorcycle in his professional career.

By the way, he also drank a gallon of milk in 41 seconds, so it's not all junk food. He trains by fasting and stretching his stomach with milk, water and protein supplements.

It must be a disgusting, gross experience to watch one of these contests. They also have banana, grilled cheese and oyster eating competition. Then, among amateurs, cops get together and see who can eat the most doughnuts. Honest.

The chief criticism of this gluttonous sport is that it sends a negative message in an age of obesity among children and U.S. citizens in general and projects a horrible image around the world where millions are hungry and starving.

Furthermore, as you can imagine, binge eating is unhealthy and can lead to weight gain, obesity, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, stomach perforation, ulcers, chronic indigestion, nausea and vomiting.

We may live in a land of plenty, but for the sake of good judgment, good taste and good health, there must be limits. This holiday season, observe the limits and leave the records for Jaws, Deep Dish and Badlands.