Molly Schuyler set a new world record on Friday by eating 501 buffalo wings in 30 minutes at the 26th Wing Bowl in Philadelphia. Since the Nineties, the event has typically been Philadelphia’s consolation prize the Friday before the Super Bowl, but this year the Eagles are actually playing on Sunday, so the mood was more joyful, boozy, and gluttonous than ever. And in the middle of it all, Schuyler packed more chicken wings into a human body than science would suggest is possible.
To put a cherry on top of the festive spirit at the Wells Fargo Center, Schuyler smashed the previous record of 444 wings, set by Patrick Bertoletti at Wing Bowl 23 in 2015. Schuyler’s a Wing Bowl veteran, boasting wins at Wing Bowl 22, when she ate 363 wings, and Wing Bowl 24, when she ate 429 wings. The event is broken up into two separate rounds of 14 minutes each, topped off with a final 2-minute round for the finalists.
Eating all those wings requires more than just a competitive spirit, though. The human body has a lot of ways to get you to stop eating when you’ve had enough, so Schuyler and her fellow competitors have to push through the limitations of anatomy to pull off these ridiculous numbers. As Inverse previously reported when Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate a record-breaking 72 hot dogs in July 2017, the human stomach has a pretty limited capacity. But through training routines like chugging liquid and simulating competition meals on their own, competitive eaters often can stretch their stomach beyond its typical 1-liter capacity — which is five times the organ’s resting size.
A 2007 study on competitive eaters’ stomachs, first-authored by Marc Levine and published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, showed that a competitive eater’s stomach can be trained to become “an enormous flaccid sac capable of accommodating huge amounts of food.”
“In that sense, a top competitive speed eater may be compared with a predatory carnivore that periodically gorges itself on its kills, ingesting massive amounts of food for sustenance until it captures another prey days or even weeks later,” wrote Levine and his colleagues. Similarly, competitive eaters often don’t eat for a full day after a competition, allowing their body to process and uh, pass all that food.
In a 2014 interview, Schuyler said she eats mostly veggies at home, but that she drinks plenty of liquids, which could help keep her stomach from shrinking back down between competitions.
Veggies aside, though, if you watch her eat, the predator comparison seems totally appropriate. In 2014, she posted a video of herself eating a 72-ounce steak — that’s 4.5 pounds — in under three minutes. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, but it also shows another major part of how she overcomes the limits of human anatomy: She takes huge bites, which are more efficient than smaller bites.
Big bites like Schuyler’s are the mark of a seasoned competitor, as they’re harder to get down. If you notice, though, she keeps her drink close at hand to help lubricate the food down her throat. As you eat, your salivary glands produce saliva to help start breaking down food in your mouth, but when you gulp down massive bites, the saliva simply can’t keep up. Hence the drink.
Another move, which you can see her do often, is keeping her head up to make her throat as straight of a path as possible. This keeps the food flowing down into her expanding stomach. Occasionally you can see her throwing her head back to let gravity assist her in swallowing.
For many competitive eaters, the monotony of eating massive amounts of the same substance can become nauseating, so Schuyler’s rapid rate of consumption, even though it seems inhuman, is probably an asset since it lets her get as much food down as possible before the boredom and disgust can set in.
Finally, Schuyler’s small frame is a huge asset in competitive eating. Last year’s Wing Bowl winner, Bob “Notorious B.O.B.” Shoudt, who weighs 275 pounds, ate 409 wings. Schuyler, by contrast, weighs only 127. It may seem like a bigger person would be a better eater, but in fact, with less abdominal fat, Schuyler’s stomach has more room to expand, unrestricted by fat.
It may be disgusting to watch, but Schuyler really has figured out how to hack the human body to crush some dang wings.