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.

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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 38.

    This spoons thing seems a bit stupid to me.

    If you have twelve spoons allowance for a day, then two spoons worth is one sixth of your daily activity. Four spoons is a third. And so on

    Using spoons just makes everything more complicated to explain than using thirds, quarters etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    That Nestrition stuff recommended by a previous poster is pseudo-scientific snake-oil (e.g. "Big Field Aligners
    These help to align your body-field with the Earth's natural fields and forces, which is important for establishing overall well-being"). You may think they do no harm, but stopping people getting real clinically proven medication is harmful. And making profit from it is shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    29. Slanzinger
    "A lack of energy is, I think, quite hard for many to grasp."

    Seriously? You're kidding right? Small children under 10, maybe, but adults? And 'Spoon "Theory"??? Don't people know what is or isn't a "theory"? This is not a "theory". I really am despairing here....

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Downrate a suggestion that may help someone??. . . . . Nice move

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    . . . . .cont from @30

    Look at the Nestrition range. ET Support is an Immune system booster and Flamese is a natural anti inflamiatory. It has almost totally irradicated my partners Rheumatiod Arthritis and helped massively with a friends Fibromyalgia and doesn't cost the earth

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    As a mum of three with MS, I have used this theory to explain how I feel to my children. It must be very hard for them to understand, when they are so full of energy, that mummy doesn't have any for very long. I posted it on our local MS site as a way for other people to explain to their children. Unfortunately some people really do not have the IQ to understand OneJohn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth, but I can cycle 8 miles a day to work!

    Not a lot of people know that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    This was already done almost a century ago, T.S Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1920):
    "In a minute there is time
    For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
    For I have known them all already, known them all:
    Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;"

  • Comment number 30.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @Graphis (17+27)
    As long as there are two people, and one wants to explain something unfamiliar to the other, they will come up with an analogy. Whimsical or no, it's a reasonable term for a quantity of something. A lack of energy is, I think, quite hard for many to grasp.

    Not everything has to be in precise, technical terms... Or would you have preferred Poppins to say "18,000 grains of sugar"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    8 Carolinas
    Maybe you should look the spoon theory up and have a good read if you really suuffer the way you say you do. I think your teens may take to it too, as it's easy to understand and not weird at all. Maybe you should ask them to have a read themselves. I have no idea what on earth you're talking about with regards to the spoon quips, since I have never read that particular publication.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    26. OneJohn

    No-one's criticising people who have these conditions, just this ridiculous notion of 'spoons'. Forgive us for expecting people to have average IQ's and being able to understand the incredibly simple concept of a lack of energy; clearly, huge numbers are idiots and need even this simplifying for them. I have chronic despair...

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Maybe those ridiculing the spoon theory and those of us that use it to explain to people just like yourselves what suffering from chronic fatigue is like, should worry that this never happens to YOU. Chronic fatigue is an awful condition and is usually comes hand in hand with autoimmune diseases like RA, MS, Fibromyalgia, Lupus and hundreds of others. Aome of you have a disgraceful attitude!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    It's a reasonable way to get across the idea that all activities have a price.
    If you took an arbitrary 100% energy each day, then you could say (if you suffered with back pain etc) that ironing costs 25 units (25%) and doing it for more than 1/2 would cost 50-80 units (50%-80%), so you could easily see that it is a measure of the energy available to someone in a given day; pain also have costs.

  • Comment number 24.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I have Ehlers-Danlos. I've said for decades that I only have so much energy in the bank and I have to be careful to avoid an overdraft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Perhaps those of a horticultural bent could adopt this idea but without the spoons , using some other instrument, say fork handles.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I have fatigue every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    6. Little_Old_Me

    "It is symptomatic of a society that is as institutionally discriminatory towards disabled people as it is racist, sexist...."

    Those comments you're talking about don't appear to be against disabled people AT ALL. Personally I find the idea of spoons a bit silly - I don't understand why those who don't have low energy levels can't grasp what it means to be in that situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This article is not very well written in conveying the aim of the spoons.

    The spoon concept emphasises the difference between general tiredness and chronic fatigue, and the luxury non disabled people have in not having to think about every single action they carry out each day. It may simplify it, but if this helps more people to understand something difficult to express it is a good thing.


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