These Viral ‘Mukbang’ Stars Get Paid to Gorge on Food—at the Expense of Their Bodies
Eating days’ worth of food in a single sitting brings some pretty harsh consequences. But they say it’s worth it.
After a long day of work, there’s only one way that 23-year-old Nadia* knows how to unwind. While eating a reasonable dinner of chicken, rice, and beans, she watches her favorite YouTube star down two days’ worth of food.
“That’s my favorite thing to do,” she tells Men’s Health. She’s not alone. Her favorite online personality, Nikocado Avocado, has more than a million YouTube subscribers. The account is run by 26-year-old Nicholas Perry, who records himself eating massive amounts of food best consumed in moderation: spicy ramen (a fan favorite), chili cheese fries, and buffalo wings are a few examples. Perry’s videos are part of a trend dubbed
Mukbang is a mashup of two Korean words: “mukja,” or “let’s eat”; and “bang song,” meaning “broadcast.” It originated in South Korea, but it’s gone on to garner international attention and recruit legions of mukbangers and fans alike, all united by the desire to watch ordinary people consume extraordinary amounts of food.
Even the most hearty of eaters will be impressed by these caloric feats: People inhale upwards of 4,000 calories in one sitting. The mukbang stars who spoke to Men’s Health said their bodies suffer the consequences–but the money (and attention) they’re collecting in this strange digital age mean it’s a sacrifice they’re willing to make.
Before making it stateside, mukbang began airing on the South Korea-based live-streaming service AfreecaTV. There, viewers chat with the Broadcast Jockeys, request specific foods, or make donations–which is how most earn money, Splinter News reported.
Mukbang is a little different in the United States. Instead of live-streaming, professional eaters upload their videos to YouTube in hopes of gaining an audience and earning a portion of the ad revenue generated by views on their videos. Some accept donations and make money through corporate sponsored videos. Their success is dependent on the appetite of fans, like Nadia, who are ravenous for new content.
“Last night I got so annoyed because my old roommate from college called me as I was getting my dinner ready,” Nadia says. “I was ready to sit down and have my YouTube time. I had to eat while I was talking to her, and that really annoyed me.”
Nadia may tune in because she’s “a huge foodie,” but viewers swarm to mukbang for a variety of reasons: pure entertainment; a virtual taste of their favorite food while dieting; or company when they’re eating solo, as is the case in South Korea.
“In Korea, it’s not common for people to go out to eat by themselves,” Candian blogger Simon Stawski, who co-founded “Eat Your Kimchi” and lived in South Korea, told the TODAY show. “Dining is a social activity, and you don’t sit and eat alone. For those that can’t eat with others, they’ll more than likely stay home to eat alone, but they’ll still have the urge to socialize while eating, which is what I think
23-year-old Madison Killer, who regularly watches videos from YouTube channels Erik the Electric, Peggie Neo, and YummyBitesTV, became a mukbang enthusiast during her first year of college.
“Given that I am not into the typical partying, I found I was having quite a bit of free time and felt a little lonely,” she explains to Men’s Health. “I don’t know how I came across those types of videos initially, but I honestly think at my lowest, they made me feel less alone.”
Becoming a mukbang star seems like a good gig if you can get it. After all, getting paid to eat all the processed, fried, and sugary foods we begrudgingly enjoy in moderation sounds like a dream. But Perry ofNikocado Avocado fame says trading calories for clicks is more work than you’d imagine.
“I know it sounds like an easy job,” he tells MensHealth.com. “You sit. You gorge. You make thousands of dollars. Whee, it’s so much fun.”
What you don’t know is that one video, ranging from 20 to 60 minutes, takes hours to produce. Perry posts at least once per week and says these videos take up more time than his previous full-time gig. Prior to Mukbang, he supported himself as a freelance violinist and by pushing carts at Home Depot. Initially, he uploaded videos of his musical performances to YouTube, but transitioned to gorging after a dieting friend introduced him to this online feeding frenzy.
“It’s a full time job. I’m the business,” he says. That means Perry treks to the grocery store, cooks, sets the stage, films, and cleans up the mess. The process is shorter for videos filmed at restaurants; Perry has orchestrated mukbangs all over the world, including at a Las Vegas buffet.
In a way, these YouTube channels are akin to a personal red carpet: “It’s very powerful to have millions of people following your every move to the point where they want to know what you’re doing,” Perry claims.
But this self esteem boost comes with a cost.
Perry reveals his sex life has become, well, less sexy since jumping into this line of work. “I started having erection problems,” Perry admits. “It never happened until I started doing mukbangs.
There’s no scientific evidence linking erectile dysfunctions to binge eating, but Perry says he’s just not in the mood after a full day of work. It makes sense. Think about the last diarrhea-inducing-meal you ate: did sex sound thatappealing after?
It goes without saying that regularly gorging on junk food takes a toll on your body, and frequent diarrhea is a problem for Perry–along with weight gain. When he began eating, Perry weighed 140. He now tops 220.
“Most people, when they think about it, are not willing to destroy their bodies for money,” Perry says.
You can add gas, bloating, and stomach pains to the list of Perry’s ailments–especially when he eats spicy noodles.
“I can’t fall asleep because I feel like my digestive tract is on fire,” he says. “And then I’m running to the bathroom. I’m sitting on the toilet crying.”