She weighs only 115 pounds and only standing 5’4” tall, Michelle “Cardboard Shell” Lesco is Tucsons’ very own major league eating competitor.
Lesco who first began her food-eating career as a result of peer pressure from her friends, has been in four official Major League Eating/International Federation of Competitive Eaters (MLE/IFOCE) and seven local Tucson food challenges.
Some of her MLE/IFOCE challenges include Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Championship at Cooney Island. She earned 4th place by eating 20 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes. At the Day Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship the U of A student ate 117 gyozas in 10 minutes. Recently the Isle Waterloo World Cupcake Eating Championship in which Lesco downed 48 cupcakes in six minutes.
Several local food challenges to the Tucson area that she has eaten her way through include the Lindy’s on 4th OMFG burger challenge (six times), Something Sweet Dessert Lounge “Sugar OD” challenge (twice), La Botana’s five pound burrito challenge, and The Hog Pit Smokehouse’s “Hog Trough” challenge (she was the first to complete this three pound sandwich and one pound of fries challenge).
In order to both physically and mentally prepare herself for a food challenge Lesco says that when it has come to local competitions, “I just pick a day I’m hungry and go try it out.”
Michelle Lesco, 28, 5’4″ 115 pounds
Lesco became Cardboard Shell partially due to a Jack Handey (from Saturday Night Live’s Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey) quote. The quote states, “Today I accidentally stepped on a snail, on the sidewalk in front of our house. And I thought, I too am like that snail. I build a defensive wall around myself, a “shell” if you will. But my shell isn’t made of a hard, protective substance. Mine is made out of tin foil and paper bags.”
The eater says her nickname was not originally meant for competitive eating but was an alias for her MySpace page. But one day, someone wrote a news article about an eating challenge she had done and used her MySpaces profile name as her nickname and from then on it just kind of stuck. “I know the name doesn’t really make sense in any context, but I kind of like it more for that,” says Lesco.
The night before a contest, Lesco eats but tries to stay away from anything that’s going sit in her stomach for a long time such as steak, cheese, etc. Lesco has found that if you don’t eat, your stomach contracts, and you can’t fill it as much as you otherwise could.For official MLE contests the professional eater says, “it’s tougher because I’m racing other people, and battling them on capacity,” so there is quite a bit of prep that goes into getting ready for those competitions.
She also says a lot of competitors will drink a lot of liquid (all at once) the night before, with the goal of filling their stomachs to capacity so it will be prepared for the next day.
She prepares herself mentally for a challenge by going into a competition always having a strategy for what she is about to eat and she always sets a quantifiable goal for herself based on numbers from her previous competitions.
After she has finished competition how she feels is directly related to the type of competition she has just taken part in. “For local challenges, I usually don’t feel that bad physically; and mentally I’m pretty stoked for having finished.”
Lesco finds local type challenges to be easier because there’s an established end to the eating. “Whatever it is, you have it in front of you, and you get to stop eating when it’s gone,” says Lesco.
But for MLE competition, Lesco’s outlook is a tad different. In major league eating competitions once the plate in front of the eater is consumed, another plate arrives and this continues until time runs out.
“Immediately after finishing, I pretty much just feel awful. Physically nauseated, and full (think Thanksgiving-full times 10) and mentally, I’m immediately focused on results.”
Since beginning her eating career, Lesco’s prize collection consists of a handful of t-shirts from local challenges, a pan from the Hog Trough Challenge which the owner of The Hog Pit turned into a makeshift plaque and signed it, gift cards and a free trip to New York to compete at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Challenge from which she won $1,500 for getting 4th place.
“I’ve also won a lot of stomach aches,” says Lesco.
With all these pounds of foods going into her small frame, she stays fit mostly due to her ADHD. “I’m generally fidgety and active, and I am basically unable to sit down long enough to even watch a television show, so I burn a lot of calories just in daily life,” said Lesco.
She is a student at the University of Arizona and her classes are all located on the opposite sides of campus. So between her ADHD, running back and forth between classes, and on her feet for six hour shifts three days a week at her job at River’s Edge Lounge, she is constantly on her feet burning calories. She also works out as often as possible and partakes in obstacle races and mud runs such as the Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Dirty 6 Mud Run, and the Rugged Maniac.
Even though Lesco does not make a living from professional eating and doesn’t believe that she ever will, her family and friends are supportive. She says they are the ones who really got her into it.
“I probably would have stopped at the OMFG, but my friends and family called me every time they heard of a new challenge to encourage me to try it,” said Lesco.