How Do You Explain the Spoon Theory?

Medically Reviewed on 7/26/2022
Spoon Theory
Spoon theory was developed in 2003 by Christine Miserandino, who was suffering from lupus.

The spoon theory is a way of expressing how a person with chronic disease copes with the limited energy they have to meet the challenges each day brings, including completing the necessary chores. The term “spoon” is used as a metaphor for energy.

According to the spoon theory, a person with chronic conditions has a limited amount of energy at the start of the day. This may be expressed as a limited number of spoons they get each day. Each task will require a certain amount of energy or spoons.

Suppose a person has 12 spoons in the morning:

  • For each task, such as brushing their teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, having breakfast, or going to work or school, they need some number of spoons.
  • Some tasks may require fewer spoons than others. For example, brushing the teeth may need one spoon while catching the bus to work may need three.
  • Thus, the person could eventually be out of spoons or energy at the end of the day. This may make them try extra hard to overcome the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of each day.
  • The pain they must endure or the anxiety and stress the disease causes require a certain amount of energy or spoons.

What is spoon theory?

Spoon theory was developed in 2003 by Christine Miserandino, a famous writer, blogger, and lupus advocate. Miserandino was suffering from lupus. She developed this theory to make everyone better understand and empathize with patients with chronic illnesses.

In Miserandino’s words, “the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.”

Healthy people have a lot of possibilities each day.

  • They do not need to constantly ration their “spoons” or energy and ponder what they can do or not do.
  • They do not have to go through the pain, anguish, and limitations a chronic condition brings. They can just go out and unleash their energy to achieve new goals, even if that means getting out of their comfort zones.
  • They have far more “spoons” than someone with a chronic condition.

A person with a chronic health condition lacks this often-overlooked privilege. They must weigh their actions with the consequences more minutely. For example, someone with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be left with three “spoons” by the evening.

  • They may have a keen desire to go out for a leisurely walk or to watch a movie. This, however, may cost them having no “spoons” left for cooking dinner, putting the kids to sleep, or washing the dishes.
  • They are instead stuck in a cycle where doing what they wish will leave them in more discomfort and restraining themselves will take a toll on their mind.


Lupus is an infection. See Answer

Who are the spoonies?

The term “spoonies” is used for people with chronic ailments or disabilities who use the spoon theory to describe their conditions. This may include many people with diseases, such as:

Thus, spoon theory is not limited to people with chronic pain or other physical symptoms. It can be used for people who struggle with mental health conditions.

What is the significance of the spoon theory?

The spoon theory is an excellent way to explain the struggles of people with chronic health conditions, both physical and mental. Each disease brings many challenges that keep piling up when the disease has a long or chronic course. The spoon theory empathizes and explains that these struggles are real and can be comprehended even by those not affected by such diseases.

  • Often, seemingly healthy people, such as those with chronic pains or depression, could be wrongly judged as lazy or laidback by others.
  • If one understands that these “limited spoons” are a true challenge and that is what makes them not as outgoing as healthy people, things could be a bit more cordial for the patients and family members struggling with chronic conditions.

One can even discuss the spoon theory with their doctor to know how to spend their “spoons” more judiciously. This will help patients with chronic diseases cope with the disease better.

Realizing that their struggles are real and not a creation of the mind will help such patients seek appropriate help to better deal with the disease and its associated mental, physical, emotional, and social implications.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/26/2022
Image Source: iStock image

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