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Using Spoon Theory to Explain Chronic Illness – [Infographic]

Christine Miserandino didn’t know it at the time, but when she went for lunch with a friend one day 15 years ago, she would walk out of that restaurant having devised a formula which would alter many people’s perceptions of chronic illness.


Spoons Are a Metaphor for Units of Energy


That day in 2003, lupus sufferer Christine created ‘The Spoon Theory’, so named because of her use of spoons from empty tables as a metaphor to describe how the daily energy levels of a person with chronic illness are so limited.



Placing 12 spoons before her friend, she asked said friend to describe her typical day. Every time her lunch companion mentioned a routine activity such as getting out of bed or taking a shower, Christine would take a spoon from her.


Having started off with only 12 spoons, her tally dwindled rapidly, and her friend realized just how difficult and sometimes panic-inducing living with a chronic illness can be.


Christine used the spoons as a metaphor for units of energy. In other words, if a person wakes up with only 12 units of energy (spoons) available to them, their energy will be all but gone by the time they complete a few everyday tasks.


This is the reality experienced by chronic illness patients every day. A person with lupus, fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc. can’t just spring out of bed every morning and take the day in their stride.



Every small activity must be planned carefully so that the person’s energy isn’t totally sapped by lunchtime. If the person decides to do too much and exceeds their ‘spoon quota’ for the day, they will find the following day extremely tough.


This infographic from Burning Nights explains the origins of Spoon Theory and outlines just how quickly the spoon quota can diminish for people living with chronic illnesses.


Thankfully, there are ways in which to manage spoons effectively so that energy can be conserved, and these are outlined in the infographic.


Spoon Theory may seem like a foreign concept for able-bodied individuals, but for chronic illness sufferers, it is the simplified depiction of a harsh reality. At least by explaining her challenges so succinctly, Christine has opened people’s eyes to the daily struggles of those living with chronic illnesses, something for which she cannot be applauded enough.


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