Staying Hungry

 Staying Hungry

WSU’s Ivan Mendoza promotes competitive eating along with a healthy lifestyle

By Tim Walker

The expression, “I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach,” is generally used by sated individuals who are pushing themselves away from the table after devouring a hefty meal. But in the world of competitive eating there are those with bloated bellies—and then there is Ivan Mendoza.

Competitive eating, for those unfamiliar with the activity, is a sport in which participants compete against each other by consuming large quantities of food in a short time period. Some of the best-known annual competitions are the Krystal Square Off, an annual burger-eating championship named after the southern hamburger chain, and Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, conducted July 4th each year in Brooklyn, N.Y. The current champion of the Nathan’s competition is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who put away an astonishing 72 hot dogs—complete with buns—in 10 minutes to win first prize in 2017. There’s even a governing body for competitive eating contests: Major League Eating, which began life as the International Federation of Competitive Eating in 1997.

Ohio’s own Ivan “The Avocado” Mendoza, who recently graduated with a dual degree from Wright State University, has two passions which many people might think are mutually contradictory: competitive eating contests and promoting physical and mental wellness through a healthy lifestyle.

Mendoza, who began competing as a “gurgitator,” or competitive eater, during his freshman year in college, had previously graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in a suburb of Cleveland and says that he’s always had a love affair with food.

“I always liked food,” says. “I got to a point in college where I really wanted to learn more about food and I would spend hours in the library—even though it wasn’t my major—studying how food affects you, what food does to the body and to the mind, what is it composed of, how do we digest it, all of that. I was just really interested in the topic of food. I’ll be honest, if Wright State had a dietetics or food nutrition major I probably would have majored in that. But I studied that on my own because I was really interested in it.”

Mendoza was born in Toledo but was raised in Sheffield, a small suburb of Cleveland. Since entering the world of competitive eating three years ago—he recently went pro, signing with Major League Eating earlier this year—Mendoza has competed in dozens of contests, winning thousands of dollars in free food and other prizes. After finding high school success on the wrestling mat Mendoza brought the same competitive spirit and sense of determination to the table when he began competing in eating contests in college.

“The thing about eating competitively is yes you’re competing against other people, but it’s really about how far you can push yourself,” he says. “It’s just one of those things— how much food can I eat before I give up? To an extent, everybody does it, when you think aout it. At Thanksgiving dinner everybody leaves the table and then you go for one more slice of pie. And at the end of the day you’re like ‘Ohhhhhhh,’ and you’re laying there in a food coma. That’s literally me every week throughout the entire year when I’m eating.”

The one thing that sets Ivan Mendoza apart from his fellow competitive eaters, however, is his interest in promoting physical fitness and the importance of maintaining a healthy diet when he’s not competing.

He is a physically fit, trim and healthy young man—not the image one usually associates with the sport he loves. He is also a certified health coach with the American Council on Exercise, which means that with a doctor’s supervision he can instruct clients in intensive weight management programs to help them achieve and maintain a healthy weight. He refuses to charge for these fitness services, believing that it is his life’s work to inspire others to live healthier, more goal-oriented lifestyles.

“I’m extremely focused on a healthy diet,” he explains. “I couldn’t eat four pounds of doughnuts on a weekend if I didn’t eat something right during the weekdays. What I do right now is I cook all my meals, eat six to eight servings of vegetables each day, with four or five servings of fruit. I really do follow what’s considered a healthy diet by the USDA standards. And I do stand by that wholeheartedly. I’m a firm believer in what you eat is how you perform.”

The Wright State graduate also carries his beliefs beyond the food he puts in his mouth and applies it to his daily routine, and feels others should, too. By eating natural, whole foods and working out on a regular basis Mendoza is able to maintain his mental and physical well-being, staying active and fit in his everyday life. He relishes the opportunity to inspire others and help them achieve these same goals.

“I have a saying: Stay Hungry and Keep Moving. Always want more in life. Never settle,” he says. “It’s not just about the food for me, you know? It’s about setting your goals. Staying hungry. Ultimately, that’s my mentality right now when it comes to competitive eating.” At the end of the day, Mendoza says that simply eating food and winning competitions is not what life is all about, that it’s about becoming a better person, growing as an individual and moving forward.

An inspirational speaker and instructor as well as a fierce competitor, for Ivan Mendoza a focus on a lifestyle of healthy eating and daily physical activity has enabled him to achieve his goals, grow as a person and find success while still a college student. Moving forward, he hopes to continue using his life—and his eating—as a tool to inspire others to find that same success and health in their own lives.