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A personal opinion piece

Pacing with a chronic illness is knowing your energy limitations and using it wisely. There are many methods to pacing such as using a daily planner to space out your activities, working out your energy percentage or using timers and rest breaks accordingly. However, the most popular method of pacing that people recommend is ‘The Spoon Theory’.

What is the Spoon Theory?

The Spoon Theory, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is a way to explain to others how you decide which tasks you can do in a day. This is based on the energy and pain levels you have. Christine Miserandino first coined the theory is 2003 to describe to her friends how she copes in her daily life with Lupus. The basic premise is that each person starts their day with a set number of spoons. Small tasks like showering might take up 1 spoon whereas larger tasks like cooking might take up 4 spoons. If you go over your quota, you are then borrowing from tomorrow’s spoons.

The spoon theory

This article is going to be a personal opinion piece as to why I don’t think the spoon theory works as a pacing tool for my fibromyalgia.

Problems with the spoon theory

1. How many spoons do you start the day with?

This is a question I really grapple with. I need routine, structure and numbers to work with. Do I start the day with 20 spoons, 10 spoons, 50 spoons? There doesn’t seem to be any specific guidance on this. I do understand it is a metaphorical way to describe energy usage, but for me it just doesn’t work as a pacing strategy. In the founders illustration, she does use 12 spoons but surely everyone is different?

Spoon theory

2. How many spoons does each task take?

Again, another very complicated thing to consider with a wide range of answers. Perhaps some might say showering only takes 1 spoon away but for others it might take 4 spoons away. Washing up to some might take 2 spoons or on the other hand it might take 6 spoons. The ambiguity around the number of spoons activities take is another reason I do not find it a useful tool.

Spoon theory

3. Can I get spoons back and if so how many?

I have read some articles that say some acts of self care give you back spoons but again it is arbitrary as to what gives you spoons back and how much! TV for me is relaxing but is it a restful activity? Reading is relaxing but again is it restful? The only guidance I can find on this is meditation or deep breathing; both of which I cannot do every time I need a rest break.

How to manage fibromyalgia

4. If I start the day with a depletion or a negative amount of spoons, what do I do?

Do I stay in bed all day? I’m a mummy so I can’t. Do I go back to sleep? I’m a mummy so I can’t. Do I sit and watch TV all day? I’m a mummy so I can’t!

Mummy the fibro warrior and her baby

5. What activities do I count?

If I broke down every single activity I do in a day, I would be using way over 100 spoons! As an example, I breastfeed my son. So how many does that take? He wakes up in the night to feed still and first thing in the morning. He often wants a feed before I have even got out of bed. Sitting up in bed, getting out of bed, carrying my boy downstairs, walking downstairs, getting breakfast for us both, managing my medication, changing his nappy, getting us both dressed and all of this before 9:00am! If I applied the spoon theory, this means after 9:00 a.m., my day is over…!

Spoon theory quote

I do understand my opinion here might be very controversial as a lot of people do find The Spoon Theory method useful for pacing with their chronic illness. We are all, of course, entitled to our own opinion and I do hope you can respect mine.

Positives about The Spoon Theory

In the interest of creating a fair and balanced argument, I will list some of the positives about The Spoon Theory below.

1. A good way to describe an invisible illness to others

It is actually very hard to describe to someone who doesn’t have a chronic illness why I haven’t showered that day or why I need to cancel our plans together or why I am angry over the tiniest thing. Using the spoon theory with those who don’t have a chronic illness can help to convey how much energy each task takes on our bodies and our health.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote

2. Worldwide connection and recognised theory

Within the chronic illness community, it is a recognised theory and all over the world people seem to know what the spoon theory is. It is a great way to connect with others through hashtags and descriptions of ‘spoonies’ and helps you feel park of an exclusive club.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote

3. Helps with the guilt attached to having a chronic illness

Sometimes, we can feel so guilty when we have a chronic illness when we can’t tidy the house that day, or we can’t cook tea or have any energy left at the end of the day to spend with our partners. The spoon theory helps ground me in the knowledge that I shouldn’t feel guilty; I have a chronic illness and I have used all my spoons up.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote

4. Serves as a reminder to rest

It serves as a reminder when you have used a lot of spoons, especially in one go, that you haven’t prioritised selfcare that day.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote

Mummy the Fibro Warrior Top Tip:

  1. Find the pacing strategy that works for you. If it’s the spoon theory, then that’s ok. You and your illness are unique and only you can decide how to use your time and energy.

If there is one takeaway I’d like you all to remember today is that models and theories are there for us to use but we don’t have to agree with them. We can find and use what works for us and our illness. I need you to know you are doing the best you can, your child/children love you just as you are and you are Mummy the Fibro Warrior.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote

Until next time,


p.s. What is your opinion on the Spoon Theory? I would love to know in the comments below!

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