Fitness for Spoonies – What’s That?


I figured it would be a good idea to explain a few things before we really get into specific topics here on this website. More specifically, I wanted to answer some questions I am sure some folks will have the minute they click on any of my content.

So, let’s do that!

What is a ‘spoonie’?

A spoonie is someone who has a chronic medical condition that limits the amount of energy they have each day to do activities. That condition could be physical or mental, and some folks have more than one condition.

Why the term ‘spoonie’?

Well, there’s a metaphor for what it is like living with a chronic illness that has been on the internet for over 20 years – the spoon theory.

This was originally written by Christine Miserandino, who has Lupus and was trying to explain to a friend what it’s like having a chronic illness that effects your body, mind and energy levels in such a profound way. They were at a diner having a bite to eat, and she decided to use the spoons on the table (and on all the other nearby tables!) to illustrate how it feels to live in her body.

Please do read her telling of the story of how the spoon theory was born! But in short, here’s the idea:

Spoons represent a unit of energy. You only get so many of them each day. Every task you do will take up some of that energy. Note that tasks can be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination – all of those things require energy. Simple tasks, like getting out of bed, might be one spoon. More difficult tasks, like making dinner, or calling someone when you have phone anxiety, could be three spoons. And even more difficult tasks, like going to the doctor, going to the gym, or having a meeting with your boss, could be five spoons (or more!).

A person without chronic illness might have 30 spoons in a day.

A person with a chronic illness might have 10. (They might have even less than that – different folks have different baselines, depending on the specifics of their condition.)

Why the difference? Because folks with chronic illnesses have factors that ‘eat in’ to their energy stores, before they even open their eyes in the morning. Just having a chronic condition takes up a lot of energy.

Being a Spoonie and Spending Energy

You can probably see that spoonies need to think carefully about how they spend their energy. If we only have limited energy to start with, we need to carefully choose where to spend it.

That means that on a good day, you might be able to go out with friends for a coffee, or go for a nice walk. You’ll have the spoons in reserve to do that.

But this also means that we have days where our spoons are all used up against our will. For example, a day that is a bad pain flare. Or a day that you undergo a bunch of medical testing.

Unfortunately, we can’t just go to bed earlier, or go on vacation, or do the things that normal folks do in order to refresh that energy. That doesn’t work when you have a chronic illness. You can’t ignore your pain, fatigue, and symptoms, and all of those take up energy each and every day.

And furthermore, most of us with chronic medical conditions have a list of things we need to do each day just to function. These are things like taking medications at the right time and in the right order. For some this takes up a lot of mental energy, just sorting pills/creams/etc and remembering to take everything! It’s also things like making sure you have access to safe food as many spoonies have specific dietary requirements. Or, making time each day to do your physiotherapy exercises. You can’t just skip them, because doing that means more pain and less ability to function.

Why Fitness for Spoonies?

Folks with chronic conditions often want to participate in physical fitness, but find their options are limited. Most fitness is geared towards able-bodied folks. Now yes, there is fitness content for differently-abled bodies! But, most of that isn’t geared towards those of us dealing with chronic pain and fatigue.

So that’s why I wanted to write about my own journey, research, and what I’ve learned. Maybe it will help someone else out there who would like to be more active, but just isn’t sure how.