Is Poetry an Effective Coping Tool for Bulimia Nervosa

Taking time for self-care is crucial during holiday depression and grief

Bulimia nervosa is a severe and devastating psychiatric illness that can result in many dangerous physical, emotional, and psychological consequences if effective coping tools are not used or if left untreated.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, between 1.1% and 4.6% of females and 0.1% to 0.5% of males will develop bulimia, and a subthreshold bulimia occurs in approximately 2.9% to 5.4% of adolescent females [1].

The reality is that the number of people who struggle with this eating disorder is likely much higher than reported, as many individuals are afraid to discuss their struggles and reach out for the help needed for recovery.

Understanding Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by a disruption in normal eating patterns. A person with bulimia nervosa may engage in frequent episodes of binge eating, consuming an abnormally large quantity of food in a short duration of time.

These binge episodes are typically followed by an attempt to compensate for calories consumed through purging. Some individuals with bulimia may try to purge by self-induced vomiting, laxative and/or diuretic abuse, excessive exercise, and/or extended periods of fasting.

The binging/purging episodes are recurrent, and the person engaging in these behaviors will typically feel out of control, guilt, ashamed, and/or depressed following these episodes.

It is not uncommon for an individual with bulimia nervosa to struggle with other mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, or other co-occurring conditions, such as substance abuse, suicide ideation, or self-harm urges.

Because of the complexities involved with bulimia nervosa, it is imperative to seek out through comprehensive care and specialized treatment that provides medical, nutrition, an effective coping tool, and psychological care to support recovery and healing.

There are many other different aspects of treatment that may be considered to support bulimia nervosa, and these should be considered on an individualized basis to help assist a person through their recovery journey.

Art Forms Integrated into Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy involves a variety of methods to help people with a variety of mental illnesses and emotional distress [2]. Some of the most common forms of psychotherapy that are integrated into bulimia nervosa treatment may include (but are not limited to),

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Supportive therapy

The forms of psychotherapy that may be integrated into bulimia nervosa recovery may depend on the individual and the type of treatment that they are receiving.

Poetry used as part of effective coping toolsPsychotherapy is helpful for learning how to eliminate behaviors related to bulimia in order to improve the overall quality of life.

Improving life quality includes developing effective coping tools to deal with distress and/or difficult circumstances, learning how to process grief, and heal from traumatic events.

Art therapy is also a form of psychotherapy that is considered an effective coping tool to many individuals recovering from bulimia.

Learn and/or engaging in an art skill can help provide more appropriate coping behaviors as an alternative to engaging in binging and purging behaviors.

Some forms of art therapy may include drawing, painting, coloring, sketching, pottery, journaling/scrapbooking, or even poetry.

Does Poetry Fit in With Effective Coping Tools

Many people may not consider the potential of writing and/or reading poetry as a form of art therapy, or as therapy at all, but again, the eating disorder recovery process is highly individualized.

For some individuals, poetry therapy can be a therapeutic form of expression that can assist in uncovering deep-rooted emotions. Particularly for a person who is suffering from bulimia nervosa, it may be difficult to understand underlying issues or emotions that may be related to this mental illness.

Allowing oneself to engage in poetry can give the opportunity for written expression and create a gateway for an associated emotional response that may be part of the healing process [3].

Paper and pen

Generally, to gain maximum therapeutic potential from poetry therapy, it may be best to connect with a professional poetry therapist.

Poetry therapists can help an individual through the process of self-reflection and exploration through precise poetry that is believed to offer therapeutic value.

Poetry therapists will also use specialized techniques that are beneficial for processing, healing, and creating effective change.

Poetry therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment for trauma, abuse, depression, and suicidal ideation, which can all be co-occurring with bulimia nervosa [3].

It is important to understand that poetry therapy in itself should not be used as a sole treatment for bulimia but rather integrated into a holistic and comprehensive treatment team to complement other forms of treatment.

If you are interested in learning more about poetry therapy, consider inquiring with your current providers and/or treatment team to discover how this may be an option for you.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: National Eating Disorder Association, “Bulimia Nervosa – Overview and Statistics”, Accessed 15 August 2017
[2]: American Psychological Association. Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. 2016. Accessed 15 August 2017
[3]: Good Therapy, “Poetry Therapy”, Accessed 15 August 2017

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 7, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 7, 2017.
Published on