ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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I am a dance teacher and I have a pupil who is very keen to become a professional ballerina, but she will have to lose some weight to do so. I have advised her on a healthy diet but she has lost quite a lot of weight quickly, looks pale and is often in tears. I have tried to talk about what is going on, but she just smiles and says everything is fine. In desperation I asked her flatmate who told me the girl eats practically nothing for days, then panics because she feels weak and eats three large meals in a day, then goes back to her minimal diet. I can see her dilemma: if she wants to dance she has to lose weight, but I am afraid she is risking her health and mental well-being the way she is doing it.

This pupil will certainly be damaging her health, and she needs to seek help; we have seen plenty of young women in dance schools with this type of problem. Quite often we find that they have had an eating disorder at some earlier point in their lives, and that they have then gravitated towards a way of life where body image is all-important. It sounds as if this girl already knows she is in difficulties, both from her eating behaviour and from the fact that she is in tears so much. She needs to take the initiative herself, perhaps with support from you - and it may be that she wants to do this without involving her family. Perhaps there is a counsellor within the school whom she could see, or she could contact the Eating Disorders Association in Norwich (0603 621414). If she is in London, she could contact us for some in-depth help, which she certainly appears to need.

Vector Centre for Eating Disorders, 12 Boscastle Road, London NW5 1EG, tel: 071-485 8257.

My 13-year-old daughter is a well-developed and provocative-looking girl. She gets lots of attention from boys, and clearly enjoys it. I do not think she has slept with anyone yet, but I am worried that this may happen and that she does not have contraceptive protection. I'm anxious about suggesting that we get her 'sorted out', because I don't want to encourage her to sleep with boys at this young age. I have tried talking to her about sex but she is clearly uncomfortable and changes the subject. Can you advise?

Whatever you do, don't stop talking. Even though your daughter says she knows all the facts, the chances are she doesn't. Many young people want to talk to their parents about sex, but are embarrassed and fear they will be judged or lectured. They rely instead on rumours, myths and the media for information. The first and most difficult step is to bring up the subject. One way is to give your child a book and encourage discussion afterwards. The Family Planning Association's Growing Up series ( pounds 3 including p & p) is designed to give young people and their parents helpful information about sex, relationships and sexual health - including tips for parents on talking to their children about sex. You could also encourage your daughter to seek confidential advice from your local family planning clinic, as it is sometimes easier to talk to an outsider.

Family Planning Association, 27 Mortimer Street, London W1N 7RJ, tel: 071-636 7666.

I have recently become a vegetarian. I eat a lot of pulses, fruit and nuts, and not much carbohydrate. Although I feel much better, I pass a lot of wind. Is there a way I can adjust my diet to cut down this flatulence?

A familiar problem, this. It is a good idea when changing to a high-fibre diet to do it gently, allowing your body time to adjust. It is also important to eat slowly and chew the food well. Wind occurs when food is only partly digested, and pulses take quite a bit of digesting. The flatulence effect from pulses can be cut down by boiling them with a 1/2 in strip of seaweed. A good vegetarian diet should also include lots of carbohydrates - bread, pasta, rice, potatoes - and these cut down wind. When you change from meat- eating to vegetarianism, your gut will develop a different bacterial flora. It is not surprising that bodies can be a bit disrupted when required to deal with a new style of eating. But once yours does adapt, the problem should diminish.

The Vegetarian Society, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 4QG, tel: 061-928 0793.

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