The Spoon Theory for People with LEMS

Emily Malcolm, PhD avatar

by Emily Malcolm, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
long-term outcomes

Many people with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) speak of experiencing chronic fatigue and  pain. They can feel tired and rundown every day, making it hard for them to accomplish even basic daily tasks.

If you have LEMS, it can be difficult to explain what your life is like to friends and family, who may not understand the limits placed on your energy supplies. A simple analogy can help. It’s called the spoon theory.

What is the spoon theory?

The spoon theory was first described by Christine Miserandino, a woman with lupus, another chronic disease. Miserandino used this analogy to explain to a friend what life with a chronic illness was like.

According to her analogy, you start the day with 12 spoons. You give up one spoon for each task you perform: meeting with friends, running an errand, etc. When the spoons are gone, that’s it — your energy supplies for the day are exhausted. You can do nothing more, because you out of spoons.

Healthy people may have the energy necessary to accomplish all their tasks on a given day. So, according to the analogy, they have an unlimited number of spoons. Healthy people also get more spoons back from resting than would a person with a chronic disease.

For people with diseases such as LEMS, the supply of spoons is limited. And longer and more focused rest is needed to replenish that supply.

The spoon theory illustrates how people with a chronic disease must carefully and consciously decide how to use their limited store of daily energy. In its words, they must choose carefully how to “spend” their “spoons.” Taking time to be with a friend may mean not having the energy to later run an errand, like shopping for groceries, doing laundry, or cleaning the house.

How can the spoon theory help me?

Knowing that you have limited energy makes it essential to prioritize the things you have to do each day. Be compassionate with yourself if you don’t get every task finished, and some tasks have to be pushed to another day.

Practice self-care, and do not feel that all of your energy must be spent on prioritizing other people’s needs. Remember, these are your spoons and only you should decide how they are best spent.


Last updated: Jan. 20, 2020


Lambert-Eaton News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.