For many of us, what we fill our tummies with is an all-day test of endurance (of hunger and temptation), discipline and, in many cases, stress — especially from the end of the year to Chinese New Year.
Even for a large majority of competitive eaters, like Singapore’s number one eater Zermatt Neo, eating inhumanly huge quantities of food in record time is not something they do every day.
Much less all day.
But 28-year-old Sarah Ow is unlike other competitive eaters, and she certainly does not belong to the majority of us.
But why try to convince you with verbosity? Let’s show you what she casually ate for breakfast on the day she met us:
Ladies and gents, we have:
– 2 Mushroom swiss with egg Croissanwiches
– 5 Turkey ham with egg Croissanwiches
– 1 Ham and cheese omelette platter with an extra serving of hashbrowns (2 packs altogether)
– 2 Turkey sausage with egg Croissanwiches
– 2 cups of iced Milo
And if you thought she went from that to dinner, you’re about to have several more thinks coming.
At around lunchtime, she was challenged to an eat-off (big mistake for the unfortunate soul who tried), and had:
– 450g of blackcurrant jam (Yes. The entire. Jar.)
– 36 slices of cheese
– 18 slices of picnic ham
– 10 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter
Think she’s done? Noooope.
We move on to lunch at 4:30pm, which is the first of (ahem) three meals she would end up having with us:
– one bowl of laksa,
– one plate of rojak,
– one plate of nasi lemak (with two fried eggs, chicken wing, fish fillet, otah, peanuts and ikan bilis), and
– four large pieces of chwee kueh.
Oh, and two cups of iced barley too.
After that it was chicken wings with wedges, Fanta Grape, four Gong Cha milk teas with pearls and one epic steamboat dinner we lost track of the food items she wolfed down.
Subconscious stomach training
Honestly, we met her simply wanting to know if she really eats this much, on a regular basis, all the time. And after confirming that yes indeed, she does, the next obvious question is: how?
Ow, who goes by a public moniker Mrs Wong (she’s been married for almost two years now), believes she subconsciously trained herself, progressively over the years, to increase her stomach capacity and overall appetite.
“After puberty, it got out of control, because I was constantly bombarded with activities from school. So, I was in swimming for a while, and then, when you go to swimming pools right, for me, the highlight for me at the swimming pool is the food. The $1 fish burger, you know your chlorine-tainted fingers are holding the burger and it’s still so awesome! And then, they have that ‘fish thing’ where you add a lot of chilli and the crab stick. Wah!”
When she was younger, her mother was never able to finish her food, so she would help her clear her leftovers. The prospect of food going to waste became Ow’s biggest bugbear, and finishing dishes at meals became her daily personal mission.
It was only until she was a biomedical science student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic that she realised she was, well, eating heck of a lot more than most people.
Ow says she started by snacking in lecture illegally — she smuggled in “quiet” food like bao (she would buy six at one go) and spent class time planning her break time meals and where to go to get them.
She contemplated issues like returning from SIM University smelling like food if she decided to go there to eat in between classes, and while waiting for bacterial cultures (the process of multiplying microbial organisms under lab conditions), there were plenty of opportunities to eat as well.
Once a TAF club member in school
Ow, who at this point was polishing off her last garlic parm chicken wing — reveals there were a couple of years where she was “really fat”.
“I was 13/14 years old, I didn’t really bother weighing myself, because I wasn’t self aware enough to want to bother with the thing, but I was put in the TAF (Trim and Fit) club, so I guess my BMI was a bit high. And I had to run during recess, which was torture to me. I hate exercise. I love eating! They were killing both the things that I love you know, the time I can eat, and they were making me exercise. That was hell on earth.”
So, where does it all go?
Of course, we had to ask this question — the answer to which we got in part by observation, actually.
During the afternoon to evening we spent together, Ow paid two visits to the toilet — at least one of which we know was to do a you-know-what.
That, she declares, is where most of what she eats all goes. Straight down and out from the other end — Ow says she needs to do a Number 2 roughly half an hour to 40 minutes after each meal, on average. And since she takes about four seated meals a day, she visits the loo four times every day.
We asked if Ow exercises — she says she’s on her feet all the time at work, and also exercises when she lugs groceries home from the supermarket when she visits about twice a week.
Yes, she goes to the supermarket to save money while feeding her insane appetite, and no, she says, she does not make her husband poor due to her eating.
Ow estimates she buys 10kg of groceries each time, and is quite proud that she has managed to cut down her spending per trip from $100 to $50.
“(I’ve resolved this year not to) spend too much on brands. I mean, it’s all the same, to me at least, because it’s the amount that I consume that’s more important. And when you tell me ‘healthier choice’, one, the amount I’m eating is already not normal, so, you tell me ‘healthier choice’, you say it’s going to cut down on maybe the health hazards and stuff, it’s not true, because, you can eat like, maybe a hundred apples, but if you end up eating the seeds of those hundred apples, you’re going to die of cyanide poisoning, so that has no point. You’re just going to reach there faster.”
One good example of a really affordable meal for Ow, for instance, constitutes about 15 eggs and a value-sized loaf of white bread (between 18 and 22 slices) — roughly $4.
A serving of pasta for her involves an entire 500g pack, cooked together with her ingredients of choice – four chicken thighs, for instance, and more eggs, and her eternal sauce of choice that she swears goes with everything she has: mayonnaise.
But we digress.
In fairness, she explains that she does do other exercise, with her husband, although we decided against asking her to elaborate.
Is it a waste of food to be eating so much in food challenges?
Now, Ow has a growing following of fascinated fans (especially on Facebook, which has some 3,700 likes), but also tells us she has grown accustomed to the deluge of hate messages she receives on her page, where she publishes record of her exploits.
“I hate the fact that you’re so skinny but I love how much you can eat”; “you must be throwing up everything you eat”; “you’re wasting so much food” — but it’s that last criticism that grinds her gears most.
“How do I waste food? I don’t get it. Unless you’re telling me that I mass order, I go to a buffet and then I eat half my plate and I go like, ‘I’m done’ and it’s a buffet, I finish half my plate and put it aside and then I go and take some more food because I want to try something else, that is wasting food…
And (people who do that) say ‘that’s value for my money’. If you’re telling me that, you can’t criticise me. I don’t waste food. I eat everything that I put on my plate, and I’m conscious of what I am putting on my plate.
I’m (also) paying for my own food. I don’t depend on anybody and try and sucker me up just to go like ‘Let’s go for lunch together’ or ‘let’s go dutch, cause I’m eating it’. I eat, I pay. Simple right?
(If it’s about me eating food that other people could have, then) ask them to order… it’s not like I’m taking the last meal you know. You can still order the food. It’s not like when I go to a place, the place shuts down. This is going to be here tomorrow.”
The only thing she won’t go near: snails
For some reason, Ow’s greatest fear is something many people, including us, enjoy: escargot.
It’s irrational, she concedes, but she says she would faint if she were challenged to eat it, and would sooner eat balut (a developing bird embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell of its egg).
“I hate… I just… I mean, you’re eating the sauce, there’s no point, why are you eating the sauce only, there’s no taste I’ll bet. I haven’t tried, I’m sure there’s no taste. I mean, and… why not make the sauce and eat it, there’s less calories right?
In everything she’s been doing, though, especially in the course of the food challenges she has taken, Ow says the most important things to do are to enjoy what you are doing, and to listen to your body.
“Encouraging a person who doesn’t enjoy eating to become a competitive eater is like encouraging a person who doesn’t like swimming to become a competitive swimmer…
If you dislike eating a lot of food or being rushed, don’t do it because you won’t be happy. Do something that makes you happy; it could be competitive eating, it could be competitive speed drawing.”
Oh, and chew all your sausages.
Top photos courtesy of Food League Singapore, screenshot from video and Sarah Ow