For each and every one of us, our energy expenditure on daily tasks is unique to our biology and our
season of life. What may seem like an easy task or activity for one person to complete may be an
extremely difficult task for someone else to complete. But how do we compare or quantify the energy it
takes to make it through our daily activities? Enter The Spoon Theory.
The “Spoon Theory” was written by Christine Miserando. Christine lives with Lupus and the “Spoon
Theory” evolved from her attempt to communicate with her friends and family about what it is like to
live with a chronic illness. The wonderful thing about this theory is it can be applied to everyone,
regardless if you have a chronic illness or not.
When Christine’s best friend asked her what it was like to live with Lupus, she struggled to find a way to
effectively communicate the depth of the impact Lupus can have on her. Then, she grabbed a handful of
spoons, gave them to her friend and said “Here you go, you now have Lupus”. Christine explained that
the difference in having a chronic illness and being healthy is having to make choices or consciously
think about things that will use up her ‘spoons’ (or energy), when the rest of the world doesn’t always
have to. Imagine you start your day with 12 spoons. If you only had 12 spoons per day, how many
would you use to go through each stage and activity of your day? Would you complete your day with a
surplus of spoons or would you finish your day with none left at all?
For example, take one spoon away if you didn’t sleep well last night, forgot to take your medications or
skipped a meal. Take four spoons away if you have a cold. You are now left with only seven spoons to
get through the rest of your day. Now imagine you have a big presentation to give and you are
extremely nervous about it. Take one spoon away. The day is only half done and you are down to six
spoons and you still have to meet your boss for a performance review, walk the dogs in the rain and
make supper. How are you going to conserve your spoons to make it through the remainder of your
day? Now extend this theory to other people in your life. What cost you one spoon to make a
presentation may cost your spouse three spoons. Having a cold cost you four spoons but it only cost
your friend with the same cold two spoons. Can you see how we are all different and how each
experience and activity we encounter during the day affects everyone in their own unique way?
The Spoon theory allows us to quantify our physical and mental health expenditures we make to get
through a day. It is a great way to check in with yourself and with those you love.
A Living Example
In our family, we use spoons all the time. It is an effective way for me to check in with myself but also, it
helps me to understand how my son is doing. On a typical day, it usually will cost him one spoon just to
get to school every morning. He arrives at school with eleven spoons left. By noon, his mental energy is
so taxed that he has used up another six spoons. Add in a change in routine, a fire drill or unexpected
conflict with a teacher, he will often leave school with only three spoons left for the day. Now I don’t
live with ASD or ADHD, but I do live with someone who has ASD and ADHD so using spoons is very
relevant to me. Some days, it will cost me three spoons just to get him out the door to school because
he will have what I call a ‘mental spiral’ which means he has about ten things on his mind at once and to
a ‘neuro-typical’ person, those ten things can easily be filed away in the ‘to do’ pile, but to someone
with Aspbergers, they are front and center all the time until they can be dealt with. Talking him out of
his spiral and trying to create some rational goals, timelines and solutions will cost me at least three
spoons, and it isn’t even 8:00am yet. By the time my day ends, I usually fall into bed with one to two
spoons left. I fall asleep with optimism that I will get a solid rest so I can start the next day with a full set
Try using the spoon theory for yourself this next week and feel the energy expenditures you make, both
physically and mentally. Once you feel comfortable with using the spoon theory yourself, share it with
your family and friends. You will be surprised to learn how different each and every person in your life is
affected by their day to day tasks. It will help you relate better to those in your close circle and it will
extend your compassion to the rest of your community.