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Getting to Know ... Sonya Thomas

A local competitive eater opens wide about her eating abilities.

Think of the most food you’ve ever eaten in one sitting. Now octuple that. You’re still not even close to the amount of food Sonya Thomas can consume.

Thomas, whose nickname is "The Black Widow," is a competitive eater. This nascent but fast-growing sport is fairly self-explanatory: competitors try to eat as much of a certain type of food as possible in a limited amount of time.

While the sport does have its share of gastronomically capacious competitors, Thomas is an exception. She is considered to be one of the smallest competitive eaters in the world, weighing in at around 100 pounds.

In an interview with the Arlington Connection, Thomas talks about her favorite foods to feast on, the meaning behind her intimidating nickname and how she manages to keep the weight off.

<em>Arlington Connection: How did you get involved with competitive eating? When was the first moment that you realized you were a talented eater?</em>

Sonya Thomas: I have known this ever since I was a young adult, as I have always had a big appetite. However, I didn’t know that competitive eating existed until I saw [world record holding competitive eater Takeru] Kobayashi eat 50 hot dogs on Coney Island on July 4, 2001. That really caught my interest.

<em>AC: What is the easiest food to eat competitively? Are there certain foods that are easier or harder to eat? Why?</em>

ST: It’s different for different people. The easiest foods for me are the ones that allow me to use my strength, which is hand speed. These include Buffalo wings, oysters, baked beans, lobster, and Chinese dumplings.

<em>AC: How have you managed to stay so thin over the course of your competitive eating career? Is it just genetics or is there a trick that you use to keep the weight off?</em>

ST: I am very active on my job and I’m on the treadmill several times a week. I’m also lucky to have a very, very high metabolism. I actually need to eat well over 3,000 calories each day just to maintain my current weight of 100 pounds. However, I’m no junk food junky. The food I eat is very healthy with lots of fruits, veggies, and protein, and very little fat.

<em>AC: What advice would you give to anyone who was looking to get into competitive eating?</em>

ST: Eating at the professional level is not for the vast majority of people. All pro events are conducted in a controlled environment with EMTs on hand. Safety is paramount, as is eating healthy on a daily basis. If you really believe you have what it takes, you can go to the [International Federation Of Competitive Eating] Web site and go to the "Join as an Eater" section. Participating in one or two contests may be the best way to safely "size up" your abilities.

<em>AC: How long have you lived in Arlington? What brought you here?</em>

ST: I have lived in the Arlington area for five years. My work is close by at Andrews Air Force Base, and there are many really nice Asian markets where I go to shop for food.

<em>AC: What is the best restaurant to go to in Arlington to eat a lot of food?</em>

ST: Any Asian-American buffet is fine with me, as long as I can eat as much as I want. I have no particular favorite.

<em>AC: What are your aspirations for the future? Where do you see competitive eating taking you?</em>

ST: I still would love to own my own fast food restaurant some day. I work very, very hard, and I love the fast food business. I’ll keep eating competitively until it becomes boring. Though I don’t eat competitively as much as I did a couple of years ago, I still enjoy it overall.

<em>AC: Why do people call you "The Black Widow?" What is the story behind that nickname?</em>

ST: Like the female black widow spider, it is my desire to eliminate the males. In competitive eating I want to eat more or faster than the men. I want to make boys out of them. I don’t always do that, but I do finish ahead of most of them.

<em>AC: If you could eat competitively in any country in the world, where would you go and why?</em>

ST: Japan. Competitive eating is not shunned there and the best Japanese eaters get lots of attention. Also, that’s the home of the greatest competitive eater who ever lived, Takeru Kobayashi.