It is funny how perceptions change over time.
The other day I saw a photo of myself from about this time last year. This time last year I had just about stopped training, but I was still very fit, not far off Ironman race fit. I wasn't quite at race weight, but I was close.
At the time I remember being quite happy with myself physically. I was a lean, mean triathlon machine, just like I was supposed to be. But the other day when I saw the picture of myself from a year ago I couldn't believe how skinny I looked, and not in a healthy way either, more in a slightly emaciated way. I have a similar reaction when I see some of my triathlon friends, particularly then men. Some of them are so extremely skinny I can't help but think it is a bit unhealthy.
It is not to say that I am all that much more happy with how I am looking now with an extra 10kg on me, but I have to say I suspect I look a whole bunch healthier. Somewhere between where I was and where I am now is probably the appropriate weight for me I suspect. Like all these things, the correct answer is probably one of moderation, rarely is the extreme end of anything the best solution, particularly when it comes to body weight.
I am not a physiologist, but I guess it probably isn't hard too see how eating disorders come about and I suspect the obsessiveness that many athletes bring to their eating habits probably borders on something similar. You have athletes, who by any measure are extremely healthy and very thin, going to extreme lengths to shed that last kg or so and get the skinfolds down to the lowest possibly percentage. For many of these athletes the driver is performance rather than aesthetics (although that plays a part too), however, I suspect the outcome is similar with a person developing a distorted view of themselves. Suddenly healthy is too fat and skinny is barely cutting it. It is not too many steps until an athlete is skin and bones and declaring themselves at the ideal weight.
I really truly understand the pressure on athletes to get to a point of almost zero body fat.. In running losing all unnecessary weight is a great way to gain speed, cycling is very similar and so, by association, is triathlon. I never had anyone actually tell me to get as thin as possible, but I knew it was an expectation in order to get quicker. Within moderation getting very lean is not a bad thing, much healthier than the alternative. However, I think a lot of athletes take it past moderation and get well into the extreme range of things. Looking at a photo of myself from 12 months ago it is hard not to feel I was well past moderation myself.
These days I might be a fair chunk heavier, and certainly less fit, but I am not sure I would call myself less healthy.