Poems on Male Eating Disorders (EDs): A Creative Approach to Articulate, Communicate and Understand Male EDs in an Interdisciplinary Therapy and Research Context

Talk Code: 
Gail Allsopp
Author institutions: 
University of Nottingham


The positive outcomes of bible/poetry therapy in treatment and education are well documented (Mazza 2017, Crawford et al 2015, McCarthy et al 2011). The use of literature and poetry can give a creative outlet for personal stories by sufferers, carers, friends and family, to aid the process of recovery and importantly, give medical practitioners, therapists and carers much needed insight into personal narratives of illness that reach beyond medical case vignettes.   

The project 

‘Hungry for Words: an interdisciplinary approach to articulating, communicating and understanding male anorexia nervosa’, has gathered poems, written by men and boys affected by eating disorders, their carers and family members. The poems are testimony to the power of poetry to articulate and communicate experiences of illness and recovery, including anorexia and bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and over-exercising. As an additional creative process, the poems have been bought to life on camera by people who represent members of the medical/ charitable professions with whom we would like to encourage males with eating disorders to engage, including a GP, ED charity support worker and  mental health nurse.    

Why is this important? 

The aim is to raise awareness in the primary care environment of male eating disorders, using the clients own words through the power of poetry. By focusing on the experiences of these men and boys, we aim to address the difficulties we have with the perception of EDs as a ‘female only’ disease. By allowing them a voice, using their own written words, (articulated on video through the professionals), the hope is to change the perception of EDs as a "female only" disease in the public and medical domains which can hinder or delay diagnosis, treatment and early intervention and to raise awareness in the primary care environment of male eating disorders, using their own words through the power of poetry.   


Our presentation and resulting discussions with delegates will outline how the individual poems situate experiences of eating disorders within a wider framework of experiences that include: mental health, fear, shame, personal relationships, (lack of) control, everyday life, consumer culture, references to socio-historical contexts, other literatures and art forms – including nursery rhymes and children’s stories – and highly individual or more established symbols. In addition, the particular form and presentation of the poems often add to or reflect their content, e.g. through a controlled or chaotic metre, a thin or thick font or the sparsity of the words on paper.   


Our creative presentation emphasizes the potential of poetry to give insights into personal experiences and wider cultural perceptions of male eating disorders for the general practitioner, highlighting its presence in men and so raising awareness.