Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi retires, shares health concerns

FILE - Takeru Kobayashi- Winner with 53 3/4 hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes on July 4, 2006. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi, who has won multiple titles in the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, announced he is retiring over concerns of damage done to his body

The 46-year-old has won the Fourth of July tradition six times, with five back-to-back wins from 2002-2006 before Joey Chestnut stepped in. 

The annual contest brought Kobayashi to prominence in the competitive eating arena. Sometimes referred to as the "godfather" of competitive eating, many credit him with popularizing the sport.

Kobayashi, also known as "Kobi," was featured in a new Netflix documentary, "Hack Your Health - The Secrets of Your Gut," that explores diets and nutrient deficiencies, especially in America, and how that can affect your gut health

"I don’t think there’s anything healthy about what I do," Kobi said, who is Japanese and lives in Japan but admitted to "eating like an American," meaning a diet that includes a high amount of highly processed foods. 

Kobi said he believes he’s eaten over 10,000 hot dogs in his life. He’s participated in other competitive eating events, which resulted in him eating 62 slices of pizza in 12 minutes, and 337 chicken wings in a half hour, the Associated Press reported. 

Kobi’s reported record for hot dogs eaten is 69, though it wasn’t set at Nathan’s competition after a contract dispute didn’t allow him to appear anymore. 

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Takeru Kobayashi retirement

Over the course of the documentary, Kobi revealed he struggles to eat and enjoy food now after his 20-year career so he’s ready to retire.

He never feels hungry or full, and has sometimes gone days without eating anything and realizing it, his wife revealed.

He said overeating can be a problem for him, too, because he’s trained his body to ignore signals like feeling full, and his sense of smell when eating has also diminished.

He said he’s curious to learn more about what damage has been done to his body – and how to undo it. 

He remembers noticing mood changes when he would train for competitions, like feeling aggressive or withdrawn. 

He said he’s eager now to "fix my brain and my gut" in retirement. Lately, he and his wife have been focusing on eating a traditional Japanese diet. 

The documentary is streaming now on Netflix

This story was reported from Detroit.