Computer engineering student Eric Dahl now ranks third in the world of competitive eating as determined by All Pro Eating rankings, though he once held the top spot. Dahl has earned more than $18,000 in prize money or merchandise to help pay for his education.
"I'm eating for my education," he said. "It helps me get through."
Dahl was drawn to competitive eating in 2011, at the former Big Red's Steakhouse in Madison. Dahl didn't want to pay for his meal so he signed up for a challenge: eat a three-pound cheesesteak sandwich in less than 10 minutes and skip the bill. He finished in 5 minutes, 50 seconds.
"It just started rolling from there," he said.
Dahl's first paycheck came from Dickey's Barbecue Pit in suburban Minneapolis, where he earned $250 for inhaling nine pulled-pork sandwiches in six minutes. The former high school athlete found the competition and its over-the-top atmosphere reminiscent of professional wrestling.
"I really get pumped when the crowd starts cheering," he said. "I'm friends with other competitive eaters, but once I'm on stage I don't have any friends."
The 6-foot-3 Dahl said he walks a few miles a day, lifts weights twice a week and plays intramural soccer and hockey to maintain his 220-pound weight. The State Journal reports that he eats no more than 3,100 calories a day, mostly vegetables to avoid increasing his waistline, and stretches his stomach by eating 10 pounds of cabbage or broccoli in a single sitting followed by a lot of water.
His next bout is scheduled for Saturday. "Silo" will try to win $1,000 at a national pizza-eating contest on Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.