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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  • Comment number 58.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Can't say I've ever heard of this theory before now (though my girlfriend suffers from M.E), but it seems like an excellent way not only of keeping track of stamina levels, but uniting people that suffer from these related illnesses and helping to increase awareness of them as well.

    A simple symbol with a strong message behind it :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    @ 38.Black_And_Proud I can tell from your ignorance of the Spoon Theory that you have not read the link at the end of the article.

    Each of us has a level of energy that we can use each day. "Normals" like you have the ability to sit down for five minutes and recover. "Spoonies" do not have this ability, they work from a limited amount of energy that does not get recharged easily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    20.glr - "............Those comments you're talking about don't appear to be against disabled people AT ALL. ............"

    Are you seriously suggesting that poking fun at the way some disabled people with conditions that cause extreme fatigue is somehow a perfectly reasonable way to go about your day...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I prefer to use a fuel can as an analogy. You have a can that has a certain amount of fuel in it..doing certain tasks uses up some of that fuel..the harder the task the more fuel used. if you had a big task,you could take from next days fuel can, but then you have less to use for that day. using it all means you have no energy left and have to rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    There is no cause known for Lupus either. And no cure for either Lupus or Ehlers Danlos syndrome. ME is a neuroimmune illness as Lupus is.

    This is not a theory. Spoones is only a way some people have decided to communicate a part of their illness. People with MS and HIV/AIDS will also use it.

    Where are you getting your information from?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


    Will you EVER learn to check your facts before gobbing off?

    I did not accuse someone of being a swivel eyed loon for having mental health issues.....

    ......I called them that for spouting off out of their proverbial & misrepresenting what others had said....

    ...you prove my point in your claims today that misrepresent the facts......

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    An energy bank or spoons etc are not only a useful way to explain to others; they are also useful for sufferers who often try to carry on regardless when they should instead be rationing their limited energy. Let’s be clear: M.E. or Chronic Fatigue is an illness in addition to the ordinary exhaustion everyone experiences, and it is distinctively different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Why spoons? What is the relationship?
    Does this theory rest on what spoon you can lift on a given day?
    You don't need spoons as much as clear expression: e.g. "I am so tired today!" to be met with compassion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I don't understand this at all. Why spoons? "Running low on spoons", "Cost me two spoons" - what?

    It's a ridiculous analogy.

    It takes less energy to say "I have low energy."

    Absolute nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Please please all those who want to say take the right herbal supplment, change your diet, your energy levels will become normal ... do not patronise those of us living with long term pain or fatigue conditions this way. Many of us have spent too much money trying such things out, and we're still left having to keep count of every spoon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The problem I have with the spoon theory is that I never know how many spoonfuls I have to start with each day, each time I use a spoonful I can't see how much is left "in the jar" and I don't know I've used up more spoonful's than I have until the energy debt collectors come to call the next day! Loving CFS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Stereotonic. You are confused about the word "chemical", as is the web-site you point to. "NEStrition supplements contain no chemicals". Technically, that's called a lie. All things contain chemicals. We are made of chemicals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Nowhere have i said 'ditch your chemical medication'. . . . .All i 'suggested' was, that's it's worth a look. . . . . If you are in chronic pain and your chemical meds aren't helping, many will try alternatives alongside them. If it helps, then thats great

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Yes! In online autistic community we have adopted spoon theory. Though I've never seen anyone call themselves a "spoonie" or the other jargon the article mentions. It can be really hard to get across how having an invisible disablity just saps energy at every stage of the day, and spoon theory is a nice visual image people usually grasp straight away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    No. Natural, organic ingredients in capsule form, NOT the 'imprinted' mineral water that you are talking about. . . . . . Take a look. Trials for Fibromialgia using the Flamese were extremely successful. The Nestrition range is not 'bio energetic'. If you are in pain and your chemical meds do as much harm as good, then it may be worth a try. £10 per month is almost as cheap as a prescription

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.


    Okay, so to quote from the Nestrition range "...bio-energetically may help correct energy and information distortions ...". This translates as pseudo-scientific word salad. I'm happy your partner got better, but one-off anecdotal evidence is not the same as double-blinded clinical trials which real medicines have to go through.

  • Comment number 41.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    The Nestrition is something totally different from the Infoceuticals that YOU are talking about and can be purchased for as little as £10 for a months supply. It works for my partner which has allowed him to reduce his chemical medication Meloxicam and Methatrixate(which is proven to damage the liver) and he no longer cries in pain with not even being able to open the lid of his medication!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "It is symptomatic of a society that is as institutionally discriminatory towards disabled people as it is racist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic et al" - oh for God sakes put a sock in it, you become preachier by the day; so pompous. Imagine, you can't control people's thoughts and speech to make your homogenised left wing paradise.


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