KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Please, put down the fork. You're embarrassing yourself.
Your Sunday breakfast is strictly amateur. What is that, one waffle? Two eggs? And you're taking your time? You're chewing?
Dude, you are a French poodle in the pit-bull world of competitive eating.
"Have you ever seen somebody eat 10 pounds of meatballs in 12 minutes?" asks Bob Shoudt. "That's more meatballs than a normal person eats in probably a year."
Shoudt is a balding, 39-year-old vegetarian and IT manager who's often recognized in public. He and his wife have three kids, so he goes to dance recitals and preschool graduations and Little League games.
Pretty normal guy, right?
Well, yes, except the 30 or so weekends a year he goes by the name "Humble Bob" and gorges himself on all kinds of meat products. He ate 53 hamburgers in eight minutes last year and is the No. 5 ranked competitive eater in the world.
Please let that sentence sink in a little bit.
"I was raised on buffets," he says, "and always got my money's worth. It looked easy. I thought, `If those guys can do it, I can do it.'"
Competitive eating is a multimillion-dollar industry. Thousands watch it in person, millions have seen it on TV. It's made Kobayashi into a household name in America and so popular in Japan he won't allow pictures of his girlfriend for fear of retribution from jealous female fans.
Eating ridiculously large amounts of food in short periods of time is either innocent fun or dangerous gluttony, fast-growing sport or gross sideshow.
Just depends on your perspective.
The thought of eating 53 hamburgers in eight minutes - that's one every nine seconds, buns and all - probably makes you a little sick to your stomach. But be honest.
Don't you wonder how many you could put down?
"I can't get into figure skating because I can't do (crap) on a skate," says Rich Shea, co-founder of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. "But I know what it's like to eat a hot dog, so that's interesting. When you're at a stoplight, we'd all like to go ahead and put it in gear and see what happens. There's a wow factor.
"There's a huge wow factor."
In some ways, competitive eating happens all over the world, every day, every time two or more guys sit down over a plate of nachos.
Over the weekend, the Kansas City Royals held the first of what will become a semi-regular promotion in which fans can buy a club-level seat with unlimited hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and soda.
"Oh, we've seen a lot of people through here who could do some damage (in competitive eating contests)," says Shawn, who worked the All-You-Can-Eat concession stand Friday night. "Especially peanuts and hot dogs."
The Hard Times Restaurant in Niagara Falls, Ontario, charges $49.95 for a 70-ounce steak, baked potato, vegetable and slice of cheesecake. Eat it all in less than an hour and it's free. There are challenges like that all over the world.
The Kestrel Inn in England offers a 200-ounce steak for 100 British pounds. It's 2 feet wide, 4 inches thick, and has to be ordered a couple of days in advance. It comes with all the fixings, and if you finish, it's free.
A skinny 5-foot-8 guy came closest by putting down 122 ounces. But people try it all the time.
"There's a disconnect when you see LeBron James hit a jump shot," says Ryan Nerz, who wrote "Eat This Book" and emcees eating competitions. "You look and say, `the guy's 6-8, 240 pounds, faster than me, stronger than me, jumps higher than me.'
"With eating you think, `I've always thought I could eat a lot. Maybe I could do good with pie.'"
This all comes with a sort of don't-try-this-at-home warning.
The IFOCE (officially, anyway) discourages training and downplays safety concerns by pointing out most eaters are only competing for around 100 minutes a year. The obvious counterargument is that you could do some major damage banging your head against a wall for 100 minutes a year.
Want to take a guess at the mayonnaise record? Four 32-ounce bowls in eight minutes. That's 24,192 calories and 2,830 fat grams of condiment.
"Oh my goodness, it makes me so nauseous to hear those things," says Mitzi Dulan, a registered dietician who's worked with both the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. "It's not normal. And it can't be good for you, for your body, your blood. Even just one really high-fat meal, there can be some changes."
There have been minor protests from health experts across the country as competitive eating chews out - Ha! - a larger niche.
Spike TV and Fox Sports have signed on to televise competitive eating. In Japan, such shows faded away after a junior high student choked to death in the school cafeteria in 2002 trying to imitate competitive eating.
No long-term studies have been conducted, but Dulan and others have wondered if competitive eating could lead to obesity and diabetes.
"We are already not very good at stopping when we're satisfied," Dulan says. "On a daily basis, as I work with the Chiefs or the Royals or just Joe Schmo, when it's a matter of needing to lose a few pounds, I just work with portion sizes. Seeing something like this, it's not helping."
As prize money grows - more than $500,000 last year - competitors are finding new ways to train. Shoudt once ate 10 pounds of string beans in an hour to stretch out his stomach. Others have thrown down cabbage or lettuce or gallons of water.
The consequences (if any) aren't known, but some doctors think these "training" methods may eventually reduce the stomach's ability to properly function.
"These guys are guinea pigs," says David O'Karma, who worked for the IFOCE before starting his own organization with what he believes are safer rules. "I guess if you tied weights to your earlobes, you could stretch them down to your knees."
In recent years, the profile of eaters has, well, shrunk. Six of the top eight eaters are 200 pounds or under, including 160-pound Kobayashi.
Eric "Badlands" Booker, a rapper with albums called "Hungry and Focused" and "Ingestion Engine," has lost 90 pounds in the last year while maintaining his eating career.
He's still 6 feet 5 and 390 pounds, but says his doctor gave him a clean bill of health and the OK to continue competing.
"If you're health conscious and you exercise and stay focused on your training and don't eat a bunch of fast food, you can be fine," Booker says. "You can't eat a lot of fried foods, McDonald's, stuff like that. That'll bring your performance down."
So you want to know why these guys do it?
Shoudt calls it "a silly guy thing." Booker says he started "just for the free hot dogs." And Pat Bertoletti, a cook from Chicago and the No. 3 eater in the world, says "I've pretty much always had it in me to do this."
But there's the very real chance - stick with us, here - that eaters are born as much as they are made. For instance, ever eaten ice cream too fast? Those brain freezes ain't no joke, right?
Get this: Bertoletti can plow through 1.75 gallons of vanilla in eight minutes, pain-free.
Let's see LeBron do that.
"I'm an exception, I guess," Bertoletti says. "I don't ever get brain freeze. But I heard if you turn the spoon over, don't let it touch the roof of your mouth, that helps, too."
Listen to any of these guys, and forget for a moment they're talking about ingesting enough calories in 10 minutes for an entire offensive line, and they sound like, well, athletes.
Bertoletti talks about being "gifted with a drive to push yourself." Booker talks about fans recognizing him around New York. Shoudt, well, he deserves his own paragraph:
"I've been around sports my whole life. I've seen what they do, and without a doubt this is the hardest thing I've ever done in what I would consider athletics. There's a time to it, strategies involved, training involved. I was captain of my cross country team doing at least 10 miles a day in college, and that was a joke compared to what this does to you."
For every chubby frat boy who thinks he can pound Twinkies with the pros, just know that Booker says you can always spot the amateurs because they start leaning and slowing down midway through.
Bertoletti says he can eat 2 ½ times more now than when he was an amateur.
"Before, my mind told me not to eat anymore," he says. "I've learned how to flip it back and keep eating for the full contest."
Well, the definition of sport really is changing, huh? Used to be fishing and golf caught most of the heat. Now you've got poker, cheerleading and eating all calling themselves sports.
But when you consider that 105-pound Burger King manager Sonya Thomas holds 22 IFOCE records (including 8.31 pounds of sausage in 10 minutes), maybe the question isn't sport-or-not?
Maybe the question is, sport-or-carnival-sideshow?
"My response to that," says James Taylor, publisher of Shocked and Amazed, a journal devoted to sideshows, "is, `The difference is what?'"
Taylor says the rule of carnival shows is that the three ways to draw a crowd are with sex, morbid curiosity or having the (heck) scared out of you.
Competitive eating meets the second criteria, and Taylor says in the old days he would've considered it classic sideshow. Now, though, he thinks the rules have changed. Eaters train. They work out. They take this seriously.
It's not just a bunch of fat guys at a table anymore. A lot of these guys are in great shape. Kobayashi is into body building and protein shakes and often flexes his six-pack and biceps.
Right now, it's easy to dismiss competitive eaters as attention-starved - Ha! - weirdos putting their bodies through hell just for a five-second clip on TV. The IFOCE likes to say the annual Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest at Coney Island this week is as big a part of the Fourth of July as the Macy's parade is with Thanksgiving - and is only getting bigger.
Maybe they're nuts. Maybe this is the limit.
Then again, this is the country that made Paris Hilton famous for, um, what exactly?
"It's a very weird planet, and getting weirder by the minute," Taylor says. "So, hey, competitive eating a sport? Sure, why not. My prediction? Not this one coming up but maybe the next one: the Olympics. Why not?
"You'll see it on TV, some guy, `Hey, I started training for competitive eating the day I was born. I've been eating since birth, man.'"
Now, please resume your breakfast. But just remember, the records are 65 hard-boiled eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds and 18.5 waffles in 10:23.
Better get to chewing.