An illustration of several people's hands at a cafe, drinking coffee. One of the hands is holding several spoons.

Spoon theory: What it is and how I use it to manage chronic illness

Each spoon represents a finite unit of energy; people with chronic illnesses have to ration them just to get through the day

Illustrations by Lara Antal

In the chronic illness and disability world, there’s something called “spoon theory.” Writer Christine Miserandino started it while explaining to a friend what chronic illness feels like, and grabbed a handful of spoons to make her point.

In the theory, each spoon represents a finite unit of energy. Healthy people may have an unlimited supply of spoons, but people with chronic illnesses have to ration them just to get through the day.

Spoon theory has become a shorthand for chronically ill people to explain how they’re feeling and coping day-to-day. And for me, it’s become a simple way to share with the able-bodied people in my life what I have the capacity for.

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