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How I Use the Spoon Theory for COPD

COPD Basics

January 18, 2024

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Photography by Lumina/Stocksy United

Photography by Lumina/Stocksy United

by Marcia Frost

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Medically Reviewed by:

Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D.

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by Marcia Frost

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D.

•••••

•••••

The Spoon Theory helps me understand what I can do based on the energy I have — or don’t have. Here’s how I apply it to my COPD.

I first learned about Spoon Theory more than 20 years ago. I was struggling to get my fibromyalgia under control, and it really helped me then. It has become even more important as the years have gone by and the diseases have multiplied.

I love to share it with those who are dealing with chronic illnesses that drain your energy and increase your pain, such as COPD.

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What is Spoon Theory?

Christine Miserandino wrote the Spoon Theory for her blog, “But You Don’t Look Sick,” in 2003. She wrote the story to explain to her friends how lupus affected her life. The post went viral and is still a popular read that goes beyond time and lupus.

She and her story put a face to the people with invisible illnesses.

The Spoon Theory is simple. She explains that she starts with 12 spoons each day. Everything she does takes away at least one spoon.

For example, she says she might need just one spoon to get out of bed, getting dressed might take two spoons, and taking a shower could take three spoons. She’s done for the day once she uses up all those spoons. That makes it necessary to be careful how she uses up spoons.

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Understanding the value of spoons

While there are no real spoons involved here, the metaphor is priceless. It’s a guide for anyone with an illness that leaves you with little energy and more pain at the end of the day.

You need to give value to what your body is capable of and embrace what it can’t do.

If you’re putting yourself on oxygen and unable to do anything by 3 p.m., you’re using more spoons than you have.

Before you start using the theory, you need to come to terms with the value of your spoons. You may not have 12 spoons each day. If you’re getting over bronchitis or just had a big day with the family, you might be starting your day with 10 spoons or less. That’s fine. The important thing is that you recognize it.

How I apply the Spoon Theory

Now that you understand how it works, you need to think about how each spoon has a place in your life. What exhausts you the most? Shopping? Walking down the block? Some of us cannot even do those things, so the worth of your spoons is going to be different from someone who can.

How many spoons I need to do things has increased over the years, which isn’t unusual with illnesses such as COPD.

Next, go to the other end of the spectrum and think about what’s easiest for you to do. Maybe getting out of bed in the morning or making your breakfast isn’t hard for you.

I suggest making notes at the beginning of the day. Put together a chart of how many spoons you need on any particular day. Make notes about the days you ran out of spoons and the days you had leftover spoons.

How did you feel on those days? You won’t have to make notes forever. After a while, you’ll get better at estimating how to use your spoons — aka energy — each day.

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How I make it work

Prioritize your spoons

That is the key to health, and that’s what the Spoon Theory is all about.

How many spoons I need to do things has increased over the years, which isn’t unusual with illnesses such as COPD. I used to need two spoons to shower, and now it’s more like three, but that’s OK. I just need to plan or prioritize better.

I’m pretty good at planning my week in my head. I always have to allow for things that come up that I have no control over, like extra pain because of a snowstorm.

I’ve learned to make deals with myself. I love to cook, but it takes a lot out of me.

The day I am going to be cooking, I do not plan to go out shopping. I’m also not going to plan a shower in the morning before I straighten up the house.

How many spoons do I need in a day?

Day 1

  • Get out of bed: 1
  • Yoga for 10 minutes: 2
  • Make eggs for breakfast and clean up: 2
  • Get dressed: 2
  • Make a sandwich for lunch: 2
  • Heat up cooked food for dinner: 1
  • Get ready for bed: 2

Day 2

  • Get out of bed: 1
  • Have yogurt for breakfast: 1
  • Straighten up the living room: 2
  • Heat up cooked food for lunch: 1
  • Drive to the pharmacy and pick up prescriptions at the drive-up window: 1
  • Make a protein shake for dinner: 1
  • Take a shower: 3
  • Get ready for bed: 2

Day 3

  • Get out of bed: 1
  • Have cereal for breakfast: 1
  • Stretch with bands: 2
  • Make pasta and sauce for lunch: 3
  • Have company over: 1
  • Make a sandwich for dinner: 2
  • Get ready for bed: 2
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Takeaway

Remember, there are no rules to the Spoon Theory. It’s all about being honest with yourself about what you can and need to do. I’ve learned that making my bed is less important to me than doing a little exercise in the morning. 

I no longer get down on myself because I can’t get everything done. I just didn’t have enough spoons. Tomorrow’s always a new day.

Medically reviewed on January 18, 2024


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Marcia Frost

Marcia Frost covers travel and health for online, print, and television. She is learning her limitations as she battles multiple progressive illnesses, including COPD, Dermatomyositis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and UCTD. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Threads, Instagram, and YouTube.

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