Ever wonder how to become successful in competitive eating?
Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas
, the defending women's champion in the
2012 Hot Dog Eating Contest
-- which airs Wednesday, July 4, on ESPN from Nathan's Famous at New York's Coney Island -- it's more about technique and speed than it is overall volume.
"I do train for the speed, so I just [speed-eat] for about one or two minutes," the 5-foot-5-inch, 105-pound Thomas tells
, chuckling. "For the volume, I try to get [my stomach] expanded, but it's so hard. And I try to eat like 50 hot dogs and buns in 10 or 12 minutes. So if I can get my body expanded to 45 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, maybe I can do it."
Last year, the 44-year-old Thomas became the contest's first women's champion by consuming 40 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, thus earning her the newly created Pink Belt and a check for $10,000. It was just the latest addition to a competitive eating trophy case that includes championships in oysters (47 dozen in eight minutes), crawfish (3.25 pounds in 10 minutes), clams (26 dozen in six minutes) and cheesecake (11 pounds in nine minutes).
PICS: 2011's Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest
She discovered her unusual talent was an outgrowth of her competitive nature.
"I'm very competitive, not only in eating," says Thomas, who estimates she consumes about 15 pounds of food in a single hot dog eating contest. "In anything I do, I want to be the best ... because I don't want people to be better than me.
"And then, I like to eat," the Arlington, Va., fast-food restaurant manager continues. "I love to eat. And then, anything I eat ... I can eat a lot of food."
Thomas, who says she doesn't eat junk food, never gets sick and does 12-15 competitions a year, considers herself and her fellow Major League Eating competitors to be athletes just like race-car drivers and boxers.
"Mentally, physically, everything, you have to be ready to do it in this competitive eating," she says. "It's not easy. If it was, anybody could do it. ... You have to have a skill and an ability to do it."