‘What is a spoonie’? ‘What’s the spoon theory’?

If you’re a spoonie, chances are you’ve had to explain these to more than a few people in your life.

But perhaps you’re new to chronic illness and haven’t yet figured out how to explain it to your friends and family.

For those of us who live with chronic conditions, the spoon theory is a way of explaining to healthy people just how our energy levels work (or don’t work) on any given day.

I’ve suffered from chronic illnesses for many years, having first been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease over 12 years ago. But I never knew until recently about the spoon theory.

Since learning about it, I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful way of explaining my fatigue and other symptoms to loved ones, as well as helping me to communicate my needs better.

In this article, I’ll explain what the spoon theory is and how you can use it to give your loved ones a better understanding of how your illness affect you.

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What is a Spoonie?

Simply put, a spoonie is someone who suffers from a chronic illness or disability that impacts their daily life and energy levels. This may be an invisible illness like fatigue, chronic pain or mental health conditions, or a visible physical disability.

Some (but not all) common chronic illness are:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Hashimotos
  • Lupus
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Colitis
  • Graves Disease

Are you a member of the chronic illness community who loves to travel? Check out my Spoonie Travel Checklist below and join the community of Spoonies! 

What is the Spoon Theory?

The term Spoonie, comes from The Spoon Theory, which was first introduced by Christine Miserandino of butyoudontlooksick.com as a way to explain her own experience living with Lupus.

The premise is simple: everyone has a set number of spoons (units of energy) to use each day, and once we’re out of spoons, we’re out of our energy supply.

In theory, health folk have an unlimited amount of spoons each day. Whereas those with chronic health conditions have a limited amount.

What is a Spoonie: woman sleeping at her desk

Christine starts explaining this to her friend by handing her 12 spoons. She explains that each daily activity uses at least one spoon, sometimes 2. By the time she gets to work,, she’s already done a ton of everyday tasks and only has a handful of spoons left.

By the time she’s finishing work, she only has 2 spoons left. She must choose between washing her hair and cooking a meal…

Activities and simple tasks that might not be a big deal for someone without chronic illness – such as having a shower or doing your grocery shopping – can completely deplete our spoons.

And since we don’t always know how many spoons we’ll have on any given day, it can make planning anything, from doctor’s appointments to social outings, a bit of a challenge. Plans have to be made weeks in advance, spontaneity is pretty much never an option, and cancellations are common.

How Many Spoons Do I Have?

What is a Spoonie

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Our spoon count can vary from day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour. Some days, we might wake up feeling relatively well rested and full of energy. Other days, even getting out of bed can feel like an impossible feat.

It’s all just part of living with chronic illness.

There are a few things that can impact our spoon count: pain levels, medications, weather changes, stress, and fatigue are just some of the most common culprits.

It’s important to listen to our bodies and give ourselves the rest and self-care we need when our spoon count is low. After all, we don’t want to find ourselves completely out of spoons in the middle of the day!

What is a Spoonie? pinterest pin


If you live with a chronic illness, the spoon theory is probably something you’re all too familiar with.

For those of us who need to ration our limited energy levels throughout the day, it can be tough to explain just how our bodies work to family and friends.

But hopefully this article has helped shed some light on the subject. And if you don’t fancy explaining this to your friends and family, send them here to read this article!


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