The Spoon Theory Explained

The Spoon Theory Explained

In today’s post I want to explain The Spoon Theory, first created by Christine Miserandino. Read her original explanation here.

Christine had wanted to explain to a friend the realities of life with chronic illness. Like many of us in Christine’s situation, we don’t have unlimited energy reserves. We don’t have the luxury of being spontaneous. Prior to being ill, we all likely took our energy reserves for granted. I certainly did. We were able to do what we needed to each day, when we wanted and didn’t think twice about having a shower or going for a day out. 

How to explain day-to-day life with a chronic illness

With the spoon theory, the basic premise is that you start each day with a set of spoons. Or coins. Or chocolate bars. Or forks. Whatever takes your fancy. Each day you start with the same amount of spoons (or coins, chocolate or forks, you get the idea). Working out how many spoons you have day to day is purely personal. It will depend on your circumstances, your specific illness and where you are in terms of a treatment programme. 


As you go through your day, each and every action you take, uses a spoon. Getting out of bed. Taking a shower. (That one definitely doesn’t happen every day anymore.) Making breakfast. Chatting.

The Spoon Theory Explained
The Spoon Theory Explained

Because you simply don’t have unlimited spoons, you have to make decisions each and every day, hour to hour. Having an acute infection or forgetting to take your medication automatically take away 4 spoons from your day’s quota. 

How to explain day-to-day life with chronic illness (The Spoon Theory)

When your spoons are gone for that day, they’re gone. You can “borrow” spoons from tomorrow’s spoons, or even the next day’s spoons, but that will mean you will start each of those days with less spoons. A spoon deficit if you will. 


Depending on your chronic illness, your symptoms will vary in what happens when you run out of spoons. For me with chronic fatigue syndrome (or ME) when I run out of spoons, I feel physically sick, generally start retching (sorry if you’re eating lunch right now). My legs stop working. In fact the majority of my muscles stop working. No longer can I stand, let alone walk. It literally feels like the on switch in my body has turned to off. The noises of everyday life, people chatting, cars driving past, become excruciatingly painful. It is a set of symptoms you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. 

“When I run out of spoons, I feel…”

When this is what happens when you overdo it, you very quickly learn your limits. No longer can you fly from day to day just hoping for the best. Something has to change. 


The spoon theory has personally become invaluable for me. It has become my language to explain to my husband when I’ve run out of spoons or simply it feels like I’m having a “low spoons” day. He knows what this means. He knows I have to prioritise rest, even more so than usual. He knows that life is going to be that much harder that day, for all of us. 

The Spoon Theory Explained
The Spoon Theory Explained

The aim of the spoon theory is obviously to avoid those big crashes. You do not want to be putting your body through that but sometimes special occasions require you to use (and borrow) more spoons that you would do normally. For those severely affected by ME CFS, that is their day to day life. All the time. 

The Spoon Theory explained…

Some may think the spoon theory makes us selfish or self-centred. Far from it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The spoon theory gives us a whole new lease of life. It allows us to live our best lives with the illnesses we have. It allows us to plan our time so we can expend our energy (or currency) in the best way possible. The spoon theory has taken off in chronic illness communities to the point where we are referred to as “spoonies”.

Lots of people have already created infographics detailing the approximate amount of spoons used for different activities. I’ve posted some below to give you an idea. 

Spoon Theory poster
Courtesy of

Spoon theory poster
Courtesy of

Hopefully if you are new to the spoon theory you will find this helpful but if you are already a veteran “spoonie”, make sure to comment below. Even if you’re not a veteran and are simply interested, comment below too!  

To all you “spoonies” out there, I wish you all the very best. 

mummying and me

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