Explaining low stamina levels - with spoons

Wooden spoons

Some people have boundless energy and stamina. Those who don't, due to disability, find it difficult to explain their energy levels and have to deal with people who think they're lazy. And that's where spoons come in.

What is "spoon theory"?

It's a quirky and easy to understand way of explaining how much energy you have left.

A growing number of people with stamina difficulties, such as those with ME, fibromyalgia, Ehlers Danlos syndrome and mental health problems, use spoons to quantify how they are feeling on a given day. It's not really possible to measure energy levels scientifically but this unit of measurement - numbers of spoons - is a fun explainer.

Some causes of low stamina

  • Ehlers Danlos syndrome: group of inherited conditions that affect collagen proteins in the body, causing stretchy skin, loose joints and fragile body tissues
  • Lupus: auto-immune condition where the body's defences start attacking healthy cells
  • ME (myalgia encephalomyelitis) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): condition without commonly understood cause or cure
How does cutlery come into it?

Christine Miserandino came up with the idea in 2003. She has lupus and, when describing her predicament to a close friend in a cafe, grabbed some nearby spoons as props.

They counted out 12 spoons and Miserandino explained that daily tasks such as eating breakfast cost her at least one of those spoons, and showering used up two.

Who's using spoon theory now?

The term snowballed on the internet and since Miserandino blogged about her spoons in 2010, her Facebook page has gained more than 58,000 likes and upwards of 10,000 people have added a supportive Twitter ribbon or Twibbon (a picture of a silver teaspoon) to their profile picture.

Does it do more than explain energy levels?
Christine Miserandino's tattoo of a spoon and a pink ribbon around her wrist Christine Miserandino's spoon tattoo around her wrist

It is something people now identify themselves with and have built a community around. The word "spoons" has started to crop up in the everyday language of people with stamina problems - and it's getting creative.

Start Quote

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”

End Quote TS Eliot

People who use the spoon theory call themselves spoonies.

You might hear someone say they're running low on spoons.

And if spoonies use up more energy than they really have, and get excessively exhausted as a result, it's known as getting into "spoon deficit". Miserandino has what she calls a "scheduled crash landing" in these situations, a rest period to get over non-standard events such as weddings or hospital trips.

She says her days are about pacing herself and deciding in advance which tasks are worth "sacrificing a spoon" for.

Previous Ouchlets

She has a tattoo of her daughter Olivia's baby spoon coiled around her wrist. She had it done to remind her to prioritise her tasks, to ask herself: "Is it important to put away laundry with the energy I have, or to spend time with Olivia and read her a story?"

When a photo of the tattoo was posted on Miserandino's blog, more than 100 people responded with pictures of their own spoonie body art. Seventy-five of them appeared on this video posted on YouTube.

Can I join in?

The #spoonie Twitter hashtag is being used by those who want to reach out to each other and be understood. If you tweet about your dwindling energy levels, why not tag it?

Read a full explanation of Christine Miserandino's Spoon Theory, or visit her website But You Don't Look Sick.

You can follow Ouch on Twitter and on Facebook



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  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I am seething...... yes we use spoons as an analogy to explain our depleting energy levels.. but we dont use it as a *fun explainer*....... !!! We use it to try to get those close to us who we encounter in our daily lives to understand exactly what its like...... because lets face it, unless they experience it themselves.. they will NEVER get it........

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I have chronic joint pain but when I asked the pain clinic in Sheffield if I had fibromialgia I was told there's no such thing; it's a made up word 'cos people like a diagnosis. I've had depression 'cos of the pain & how it restricts my life, but I work full time and pay for prescribed pain killers. I know people far more physically able than me who are on benefits and it makes me very angry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Some inappropriately selfrighteous people act like because a twitbook trend has at some time been followed by someone somewhere who has some disability that comments that dont support it are discriminatory
    I know a disabled person who used a bank the other day,better get the word out...nobody can criticise bankers anymore!
    Spoons work for some, hurrah, others including the disabled find it silly

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.


    ...[CNTD] The use of the item "spoons" make the following points

    - The experience of those with Chronic Fatigue is radically different to simple tiredness or lethargy
    - It is an arbitrary condition, where the amount of energy makes no sense, unlike fuel or batteries etc

    If people say "I'm tired" others think they understand when they don't. Its much worse than normal "tiredness"

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    I use the battery analogy myself but batteries or spoons it makes no difference. It is just a way to tell or explain to others what your physical condition is "at the moment" or daily. Sometimes non-sufferers don't seem to comphrend how you feel unless you do use an analogy.

    And as I can see here by some comments, I am justified by that observation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.


    The reason people don't say "I'm tired" or "I have low energy" or "My stamina is bad" or "I'm running low on fuel" or any of the things you've said, is this. Everyone has fuel. Everyone has stamina. Everyone has been tired. But most people have not known what it's like to be chronically ill. Most people don't know what it's like to wake up with an arbitrarily low amount of energy..[CNTD]

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The "spoons" analogy is better than fuel because when people think of the body's fuel, they think there is a way of refuelling. There is no fuel for Chronically Fatigued people. The energy levels they have don't make sense. Sleep doesn't help, food doesn't help. A random object like "spoons" shows you the absurdity and the frustratingly arbitrary nature of the condition. It forces you to think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    When I had home healthcare coming to my house they would always ask me what my pain level was on the 1-10 scale...how can you rate pain on that scale when there are days it far surpasses a 10? And they never asked me what my energy level was and should have because many times my energy level was what controlled how much I could do. I have fibromyalgia and wish in could be cured!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Reading through these comments I've come to the conclusion that like my condition, ignorance is also something that you can't cure. Sadly there are people who make genuine sufferers look bad. Just don't taint us with that brush. If the spoon theory lifts someone's spirits, then why knock it. Especially if you don't have long term health problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I get the analogy.

    'Spoonful' would have been clearer and is my interpretation of the intended meaning. i.e. a spoonful of food bringing energy into the body.

    Fatigue hits the brain as well as the muscles, which can make it more challenging to communicate one's thoughts clearly.

    Various dysfunctional trolls here lack the will/energy to engage and empathize. Oh the irony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Bad news for IDS

    Using this theory in interviews might empower the 000's of Autistics to answer ATOS PIP interviews stopping the stripping away a benefit the vast majority of them are entitled to, With only 15-17% of autistic adults having the "stamina" to work full or part time IDS is about to commit one of the greatest social injustices so far of this g'vernment

  • Comment number 107.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    If your on your last spoon, dip it in the sugar bowl,,,,,sorted.

  • Comment number 105.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 104.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 103.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    As a woman w/ lupus, I support awareness and accentuating the positive but I am not a utensil and choose not to use the term. In fact, I believe people with compromised immune systems should be avoiding unnecessary needles, tattoos lead to infection.

    I strive to "avoid a flare, while finding the flair" of life while a chronic disease. I call this idea "Lupus Style" a different perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I have Arnold Chiari Malformation it's a rare brain condition, I always had problems explaining why I couldn't do things on one day but I could the day before friends thought I was lazy, but then I found the spoon theory i have friends that also have Chiari and when one of us is feeling unwell we share our spoons, my mother bought me a bracelet with spoons on so I won't run out of spoons

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Are they teaspoons or tablespoons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I have Lupus and very few people understand what we go through, unless they've been there themselves.I'm not tired, I'm completely exhausted! Being Medical personnel, this analogy explains what we go through better than any medical article I've ever seen! I sure wish some of you could feel this way for at about a month, then you might think before speaking about something you know nothing about!


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