By Liana Jacob


MEET THE athlete who claims JUNK FOOD helps her perform better and who admits to carrying a bag of CANDY CORN with her during races – but she still manages to maintain a RIPPED physique and says you can do the same.

Tennis instructor and personal trainer, Simone Hanlen (38), from New York, USA, has always been active throughout her life, having coached tennis for 16 years, but didn’t consider herself athletic until she started university.

In 2002, she discovered her passion in competing in marathons and physique fitness competitions. She felt the highly active sports gave her license to indulge in treats. With a slim frame of 9st 6Ib and a UK size six to eight, in 2005 she found herself participating in the International Federation of Competitive Eating show; where she dressed as Mary Antoinette and engorged a five-pound Victoria sponge.

Simone doing a press up and treating herself to a snack as she hits the ground. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

She says that competitive eating makes her a better athlete as to consume copious amounts of food leads to discomfort and you would need to be ok with discomfort when participating in athletic sports too.

“I grew up playing tennis and not much else. In university my tennis coach suggested I start running to get faster on the court,” Simone said.

“At the time I lived in Brooklyn and would run to the park every day, just under a mile. On one of these trips I decided I should run a marathon.

“I had no idea how long a marathon was. Within six months I ran the 2002 Chicago Marathon. I hadn’t done a lot of training so my finish time wasn’t great, but at the same time I felt like I could keep running.

“That marathon wasn’t the transcendent experience I had heard about from others, so I thought maybe the solution was doing ultra-marathons.

Simone before she found a love for fitness and junk food combined. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

“During the ultra-marathons I developed an unorthodox approach to nutrition. Fuel is important and I started to explore different food to keep me going.

“Junk food is a big thing during ultras; crisps for salt, candy for the sugar. Turned out I loved Coca Cola due to the caffeine and sugar as well as candy corn.

“I actually perform better with this stuff, so I always carry a bag of candy corn with me during races in case I need it.

“I just finished fifth in the USA Track and Field 50K National Championships at four minutes and seven seconds while consuming Coke and candy corn.

“As for my running, I’ve run over one-hundred marathons and ultras combined. I’ve done one in every state in the US. I plan on running one in every country that offers one, I’ve finished three so far.

Simone has always been athletic, but in 2005 she found a love for competitive eating. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

“I believe in moderation and not denying yourself treats, you can make them part of your diet and still look amazing.

“My Instagram page is all about the enjoyment of great food and exercise. You can have a great relationship with both.”

Before Simone became athletic, she would enjoy carbohydrate-focussed meals, a day consisting of a bagel with lox, Chinese take-aways, vegetables and salmon and lots of chocolate chip cookies.

She has now changed to a healthier alternative by splitting her meals into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. She always starts her day off with celery and carrots, oatmeal and egg whites with fruit. For lunch she will have a full meal of fried chicken or pizza and ice cream. She eats mainly protein, a few cups of green vegetables and complex carbohydrates while still eating lots of chocolate chip cookies for dessert, while still consuming between 2,200 and 2,800 calories a day.

“Competitive eating makes someone a better athlete for a number of reasons, most importantly being okay with discomfort,” she said.

Simone indulges in rich treats. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

“Many things are uncomfortable temporarily, like an all-out sprint or stuffing yourself. Practising in those situations is helpful and you can push yourself when the time comes.

“Many athletes in the sports I compete in don’t fuel enough; by training for competitive eating I definitely get enough calories.

“In the sports I compete in, there is a lot of physical sacrifice; by giving yourself rewards like donuts, it helps my motivation, so I’m not left feeling deprived.

“I have participated in the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) show. I dressed as Marie Antoinette in the world cake eating competition. I’m getting back into the competitions and I’m signed up to eat gyoza later this summer.

“Every sport is a little different; before a fitness competition you limit calories, avoid carbohydrates, and dehydrate yourself.

“Before a marathon you want to be properly fuelled, hydrated, and not consume anything that will give you gastric distress.

Simone loves to indulge in snacks and sweets. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

“Before an eating competition I prefer eating high volume, low calorie foods, like water or celery to stretch the stomach.

“I love my body; it’s absolutely incredible what humans can do. I have these moments of amazement and incredulousness.

“Fitness brings me joy. When I hear people don’t like to do a certain sport or activity, I tell them to keep exploring. There’s something for everyone.

“My secret to keeping in shape isn’t a secret; calories in, calories out. I always keep track of my calories and I exercise regularly.

“It’s not entirely that simple, it’s better to eat whole, unprocessed foods, but I allow myself to have treats too.

Simone claims that eating junk food has enhanced her athletic performances. MDWfeatures / Simone Hanlen

“I make sure to stay on top of my diet. Exercise helped build muscle, but I need to be aware of what I’m consuming in order to maintain the shape I’m in. I weigh myself every day and make dietary changes accordingly.

“My most frequent advice is to make small changes; you will adapt more easily and be able to maintain them.

“Making any small physical or dietary change is better than none. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t follow your plan, just move on. You will have the chance to make a different decision next time.”