Live Binge Eating Shows Go Viral & They’re Really Disturbing (VIDEO)

binge eatingEvery weeknight thousands of people gather in front of their laptops to watch a spectacle: Live binge eating. This isn't a rapid hot-dog eating contest. It's a human being, sitting down in front of a massive pile of food, and simply devouring it all. What could possibly be behind this wildly popular obsession?

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These eating shows, called mukbang, are all the rage in Korea. The eaters are minor celebrities, many of whom earn their living through this live binge eating. They don't just consume insane amounts of food, either. They infuse their broadcasts with excitement by eating noisily, slurping loudly and commenting on how it all tastes.

One celeb eater, Rachel Ahn, told NPR she thinks her fans are living vicariously through her. "Viewers who watch my mukbang are on a diet. So you call this a sort of gratification through others."

Hahn Yeh Seul, digital media manager of the eating show platform AfreecaTV,  thinks the obsession is about community. With so many Koreans living alone, there's a desire to gather around a table together, even if it's a virtual table.

More from The Stir: 7 Crazy Extremes People Have Gone to for Fast Food

But media psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, who treats patients with eating disorders, thinks it's an unhealthy trend. "Watching people binge eat in a very crude, primitive way is like watching zoo animals. It is yet another step in the downward spiral of civilization," she told The Stir.

Viewers are fascinated because watching someone consume huge amounts of food, with careless abandon, vicariously fills up the emptiness inside the viewer. This is especially fulfilling for people with eating disorders or other addictions, who are struggling to limit or avoid the substance of their addiction, the opposite of the binge eaters they watch.

But, it also appeals to people who feel they have to limit themselves in other ways, such as in what they say or do. It’s the antidote to being proper.

Psychologist and author of You Are WHY You Eat Ramani Durvasula agrees that the trend is unhealthy. "Glamorizing binge eating once again implies that eating only sits on one of two poles, over control/starvation or overeating/binging, which seems to be a global issue." She worries about the influence mukbang has on impressionable viewers, who could be inspired to join the trend themselves.

Curious? You can watch Ahn in action here. It's ... not exactly the kind of mindless eating we associate with binge eating. And it's definitely more social. (Demented and sad, but social, as they say in The Breakfast Club.)

I have to admit, I get the appeal. You can almost taste everything along with Ahn. She eats with such abandon. Nothing seems to get in the way of her pleasure -- not worries about her weight, not table manners. And there's something I sort of admire about that.

But to watch for hours at a time? And so MUCH food? It gets unsettling after a while. What starts out fun slowly turns into a nightmare. I started to feel nauseated.

What do you think of this obsession with watching strangers binge eat?

 

Image via Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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