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 98.

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

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    Comment number 97.

    Spoonfuls of sugar help the medicines go down, which i find adds to the tiredness/fatigue, if there is a differential between the two.

  • Comment number 96.

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

  • Comment number 95.

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

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    Comment number 94.

    93. Artaeus

    Sure. I agree with you 100%. What I'm heaping scorn on is the mass idiocy of adopting the concept by the uncritical and unthinking, who seemingly couldn't come up with anything better. People on this HYS have indeed come up with better analogies (fuel, batteries etc), and let us hope one of them replaces this ridiculous spoon thing.

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    Comment number 93.


    And as we are not all blessed with a brain the size of a planet and the ability to comprehend the Universe at a single glance, I believe this lady is to be commended for attempting to explain a difficult concept with the resources at hand.

    Your scorn is unnecessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Those damning "spoon theory" need to think that many in the disabled community are finding it a very useful way to get across the idea of limited energy. If it doesn't work for you, don't use it, but do try to appreciate it has helped a lot of us to explain to others and even to understand our selves better.

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    Comment number 91.

    I suffer from chronic pleural pain that started after pulmonary emboli. Like other conditions people describe here, it is a chronic, internal, energy-sapping condition. I honestly do no think that any analogy is really going to convey to others what the experience is like, even spoons. People will either be compassionate – or not – not matter how you describe how you feel.

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    Comment number 90.

    Whilst I can agree with you on a purely semantic basis that it should not be called a 'theory' what is life without a little frivolity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The general understanding of available energy levels and fatigue for those who suffer from ME and the like is equivalent to the understanding of illnesses like depression. For ME, the spoon analogy is simply saying that there is a finite amount of energy per day, divided into units (spoons, batteries, or drops, call it what you will) and once those units are used up, there is nothing left.

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    Comment number 88.

    "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."

    Why? The reason spoons was used is because the person who came up the the analogy was in a restaurant, and spoons were available.
    As for your experience it is nothing like an illness such as ME.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    86. Anglerfish

    No, easily understood analogies are just that: easily understood. Absolute drivel, on the other hand, is exactly what the spoon analogy (I refuse to call it a "theory", as it isn't a theory) is.

    It is something dreamed up by someone inarticulate to explain their illness to the uncomprehending. And it fails. Sakara's fuel-can analogy made far more sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    66. Graphis

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

    I think you're confusing an easily understood and somewhat light-hearted analogy with absolute drivel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    &84 tonyblair: to those with non curable illnesses i.e Lupus this IS a worthy story...also shows the ignorance of the general public who are ill informed & narrow minded & dismiss something they have no knowledge of.

    People should remember this quote "There for the grace of God go I"

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    The least news worthy story has a comment section.....?

    I feel we are being controlled Im off to wrap tin foil round my head so they cant hear my thoughts

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Odd that some people are getting worked up over this. It's just an alternative way of saying "units of energy." It's shorter, the simple analogy will help some people understand, and it neatly sidesteps the question "what units are you dealing with?"
    It also deals with how sufferers can have different energy levels on different days - unlike a 1-10 scale.
    Spoons is as good a reference unit as any.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    68 you are talking out of your..hat.With fatiguing illnesses like Lupus, ME, MS its not simply a matter of feeling a bit fed up, thus easily shrugged off. Sufferers struggle with a whole host of basic tasks (even brushing teeth) because of overwhelming fatigue possibly neurological in nature but also because of symptoms which impact on mobility such as pain. Exhaustion is a known relapse trigger.

  • Comment number 81.

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

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    Comment number 80.

    I spent a couple of spoons looking at that nasty tattoo. I spent the rest of my spoons and crashed about half way through the linked video.

  • Comment number 79.

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


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