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



This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    @ afreethinker :) Apology spotted and accepted! Ignore my post below ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    @ afreethinker..... Comment 71
    Read my post again. I think you should direct your comment to
    68 The Banterer

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.


    You seem to be suggesting that a direct analogy can be drawn between what you experienced tiredness wise through depression with the extreme exhaustion that suffers of diseases like ME have to go through every day.

    There is no comparison - feeling lethargic is not the same as being physically exhausted.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    67/70 Lassalkie my sincere apologies my comment 71 was not aimed at yourself. This was meant for 68. TheBanterer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    It's just a way of quantising something. Using a tangible object is obviously both a way of making light of a bad situation and also giving some sense of tangibility to a vague and difficult to measure concept.
    Unbelieveable that people see fit to criticise something that appears to be genuinely helping people (at no cost to taxpayer!).

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    68 TheBanterer

    I'm afraid you're falling into the common mistake of believing that being 'tired' from a normal, healthy perspective, is in any way comparable to chronic fatigue. When fatigue sets in and I cannot lift my leg, no amount of positive thought will alter the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    What a load of bovine excrement. I have Kidney Failure, and even though I am lucky enough to have a transplant, my condition and treatment leaves me weak. But to use spoons as an analogy is bizarre. OK, she had spoons at hand so that explains the item, lucky it wasn't sachets of ketchup! Me, I'm just tired on a scale of 1-10, easy. (cuurently 7ish)

  • Comment number 71.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I think people who don't like the term "spoons" are missing the point. The original usage was a light hearted attempt to explain a difficult concept (ie very limited energy reserves).

    The term is not formal, but some-how it works and has caught on by popular useage.

    Personally, I hate to admit it when I need to stop. "No more spoons" is a sort of in-joke to explain my need to stop.

  • Comment number 69.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Sounds like mind over matter to me. I suffered with depression once and was in a state of mind where I had convinced myself that I was tired all the time, but particularly after doing things I didn't look forward to doing. Once I passed through that phase however I realised that much of tiredness is 'self-inflicted' and you can talk yourself up to things quite easily and not be tired.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Saying "I'm tired today" is not enough to convey what happens with a condition like ME. Before I was ill, I would say "I'm tired today" and it meant "I'm ready a couple of early nights". No one has sympathy for "tired" because everybody feels tired sometimes.

    With ME there is no borrowing energy from the future; the quota is finite. Hence spoons are a useful analogy because they can run out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    62. OneJohn

    I've no problem with people wishing to explain their condition in easy-to-understand terms. But that's the whole problem here. "Spoons" is quite the most ridiculous analogy ever: Fuel can, battery etc are all better analogies, and easier to understand.

    Must go: need to bottle my key and nail a hammer. (See? Irrelevant analogies only confuse matters further.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    49 Monkey Dean:- I would suggest you use the Spoon Theory on yourself when you wake tomorrow and see how many spoons you have left before you get to lunchtime...in fact I would suggest all those who think it a silly theory do the same...remember those with Lupus etc can't just do this for one day this happens every day!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    38. Black_And_Proud
“Using spoons just makes everything more complicated to explain than using thirds, quarters etc.”
    49. Monkey Dean
    “It's a ridiculous analogy. It takes less energy to say "I have low energy.””
    50. BluesBerry
    “Why spoons? What is the relationship?”
    54. Sakara
    “I prefer to use a fuel can as an analogy.”
    This makes far more sense. As does the battery analogy.

  • Comment number 63.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    27 Graphis.
    Did I say people were criticising others for having these diseases? No. I said people l, just like yourself, were ridiculing the spoon theory as welk as those that use it. What you don't seem to understand is that effects these diseases have on us, aren't always easy to explain to others, especially when the majority of the general public are far from intelligent. Just like yourself!

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    60. Fireball's comment makes sense - biologically, the mitochondria seem like a pretty logical place to start if you wanted to find a core biological reason why someone suffers from M.E... the power cores of your cells and whatnot. I'm no scientist, but I've studied biology and the battery analogy seems consistent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    According to Morris and Maes (2012), people with ME are running on very faulty batteries (mitochondria), which just give them enough power to live a very minimal life. When more demands are placed upon these faulty batteries further damaged is inflicted upon them and so that they cannot supply that minimal power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    One of the hormones/neurotransmitters that determines where energy is diverted to muscles is glucocorticoid (cortisol). Glucocorticoids are a double edged sword; too little and even getting our of bed can be hard (Addison’s disease, etc.), too much like salmon that are driven to swim upstream to spawn have massive amounts in their bloodstream and then die immediately afterwards, is catastrophic.


Page 3 of 6


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.