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Real Talk: Eosinophilic Diseases

Apr 30, 2024

Co-host Ryan Piansky, a graduate student and patient advocate living with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) and eosinophilic asthma, and co-host Holly Knotowicz, a speech-language pathologist living with EoE, who serves on APFED’s Health Sciences Advisory Council, have a conversation about the Spoon Theory.

In this episode, Ryan and Holly discuss the origin of the Spoon Theory, their experiences, and what the Spoon Theory means in their lives.


Listen to this episode to learn how the Spoon Theory could work for you.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this podcast is designed to support, not replace the relationship that exists between listeners and their healthcare providers. Opinions, information, and recommendations shared in this podcast are not a substitute for medical advice. Decisions related to medical care should be made with your healthcare provider. Opinions and views of guests and co-hosts are their own.


Key Takeaways:

[:50] Ryan Piansky and co-host Holly Knotowicz introduce the topic of today’s episode, the Spoon Theory. Both Ryan and Holly will discuss their experiences.


[1:39] About ten years ago, fatigue became a challenge for Holly. As she researched options for managing her fatigue, Holly came across the Spoon Theory, a tool she uses and teaches now in conferences and talks.


[2:05] The Spoon Theory is a story written and copyrighted by Christine Miserandino in 2003 to help explain how chronic illness affects the amount of physical and or mental energy a person has available for daily activities and tasks and how it can be limited.


[2:28] About a year ago, in a Community Conversations episode of APFED’s podcast, guest Ashley Spencer discussed EGPA. Ashley and Holly brought up the Spoon Theory. Ryan calls the Spoon Theory a digestible way to convey the effect of living with fatigue from chronic illness.


[2:46] Holly shared how Christine Miserandino developed the Spoon Theory while at brunch with a friend. Her friend asked Christine how she was coping living with lupus. Christine grabbed all the spoons from the table and explained that each task throughout the day costs a spoon.


[3:21] Christine asked her friend to walk through every activity of her morning. As her friend started talking about the different things she does, Christine would remove a spoon from her pile of 12 spoons. When dinnertime came, there was only one spoon. That limited her choices for dinner; this was long before dinner delivery services.


[4:19] Through this exercise, Christine’s friend learned how chronic illnesses use up a lot of energy just from existing. For listeners who want to read more, please check out Christines’ website,, linked in the show notes.


[4:33] Ryan sees the Spoon Theory as an easy way to convey what living with a chronic illness is like. He asks, why is it 12 spoons? Does everyone have the same number of spoons? In interviews, Christine has said 12 was the number of spoons on the table but it is a good representation of the limited supply people with chronic illnesses have.


[5:07] According to the theory, healthy people have an “unlimited” supply of spoons, while people with chronic illnesses have to ration their spoons to get through the day. Everybody’s number is slightly different but the theory uses 12.


[5:22] Ryan shared a story about seeing his sister during the holidays. She doesn’t have a chronic illness. She seems to have unlimited spoons for activities she plans, while Ryan may run out of spoons around 10:00 a.m.


[5:46] Ryan asks if it is always the same number of spoons per day. Holly says your baseline number is about 12 spoons. It can vary if you borrowed spoons from the day before or if you have spoons left over from the day before. Some say on a good day, you might wake up with 20 spoons but a bad day would start with 12 spoons.


[6:34] Holly explains about borrowing spoons. If you run out of spoons on one day, before you finish your activities, you might borrow spoons from the next day by canceling a planned activity for the next day. Holly also explains it to people as a lending library.


[7:49] When Ryan was young, he attended the APFED patient education conference every year. He recommends it. His parents warned him not to overextend himself but to take it easy and rest during the day. At every conference, he just kept going for 12-plus hours. When he got home, he would crash for a day. He had used up all his spoons!


[8:36] Ryan asks what happens when you run out of spoons. Holly shares that when you run out of spoons, your body might have a flare-up, or be more susceptible to getting sick because you’ve become rundown.

[9:10] It can also lead to comparison with others and feeling sad or anxious because you don’t have the energy that healthy people around you have. For the average person with chronic illness, cooking from scratch from a recipe could be three or four spoons.

[9:51] For someone with a specialized diet, that could double. You’re not just reading the recipe, you have to think about substitutions and go buy them. You have to know if the recipe will taste good with substitutions. It’s mentally exhausting to follow recipes for specialized diets.


[11:04] Holly is an extrovert but sometimes being with people can take too many of her spoons, so she carefully plans her socializing. Being with good friends might take three spoons. Presenting at a conference takes more spoons. Walking a dog could take two spoons. Taking medication or brushing her teeth could take one spoon.


[12:10] For children with chronic illness, going to school might take four of their spoons. Playing soccer might take five spoons, so at times they don’t have the energy. This can result in absences from school because they want to have typical social lives but don’t have the energy and reserves to do so. It’s the same for adults but it’s a hard fact for children.


[12:53] Ryan was diagnosed with EoE at age two. Ryan thinks back to high school. He woke up at 6:15 every day to get to high school before 8:00. Getting to school on time probably took most of his spoons. The rest of the day was exhausting. He never did any extracurriculars in high school. By 3:00, he was down for the count.


[13:50] If Ryan’s friends wanted to spontaneously do something after school, he often had to refuse. He needed a few days to prepare physically and mentally for extra activities. Having something sprung on him at the last minute drained more of his spoons. He would like to have had the Spoon Theory to explain it to his friends.


[14:52] Holly says there is a mental aspect to having a chronic illness. You have to think about things in advance, especially people living with eosinophilic diseases and/or those who have specialized diets. To consider going out to a meal, you might have to research a restaurant in advance or even talk to the chef. Thinking about and making these phone calls requires spoons.


[16:06] Recently Ryan planned to go out with friends. After they picked a restaurant and Ryan chose what he would order, the friends decided to try a different restaurant. Ryan had to check the menus of six other restaurants before they settled on the original one. The extra effort depleted Ryan’s energy and he just sat quietly during dinner.


[19:14] Ryan didn’t push himself to be social because it would have eaten into his reserve spoons for the following day. As it was, he slept in the next day.


[20:07] Ryan has had days where he has had to use up the next day’s spoons, and then had the next day be equally busy. 


[20:28] The Spoon Theory can be applied to different chronic illnesses. Most of them are invisible illnesses. It makes sense that Christine’s website is named


[21:29] Holly loves that the Spoon Theory provides a visual representation of how our energy works and how we can manage it. Because many chronic illnesses are invisible, people don’t always understand why we have to cancel, abort, or decline plans. We often have to prioritize activities to protect our health. It’s a different standard.


[22:10] We prioritize activities to protect our health and how we feel. Holly uses the Spoon Theory to explain why she declines plans in advance when she has too many things scheduled. She wouldn’t be her best self. Holly rarely schedules anything for after an eight-hour workday.


[22:55] Holly thinks of herself as a dynamic person who brings a lot to the table. She doesn’t want to be in an activity where she can’t participate fully. It reflects on how much her diagnosis seeps into her life. She doesn’t like to share her EoE with everybody, even though many people in her life know it and she does this podcast!


[23:25] Over the last six months, Holly’s goal has been to map out her week to keep her energy consistent. She plans when to work out in the morning, when to see patients, and when to fly for international conferences. She gives herself a rest day after the flight or she stumbles and mumbles during the presentation. This means she often declines dinner invitations.


[24:45] Holly will accept invitations to destination weddings but then will not book anything extra for a week afterward or she knows she will get sick. It’s a pattern.


[25:28] Ryan says sometimes people can tell when he’s not at his best, but for the most part, he looks relatively healthy. He’s up and about, at meetings and conferences but it’s such a limited amount of energy that he has available. It’s hard for people with unlimited spoons to gauge how many spoons Ryan has left.


[25:57] Holly often presents at medical conferences about feeding therapy, eosinophilic diseases, food allergies, FPIES, and tube feeding, and she incorporates the Spoon Theory into some of her talks. She has spoons at the podium and starts dropping them as she goes, holding one or none by the end. That’s when questions come.


[27:25] Holly likes people to know that when they’re working with kids with chronic illness, it’s important to pace out their therapy. For example, give a patient two things to work on until the next time, not ten, to be successful.


[28:50] Ryan clusters his multiple specialist annual visits at the start of the fall semester and at the beginning of the spring semester. That means he misses some classes and lectures at the beginning of each semester. It is draining. Tests eat up half his spoons for the day.


[30:35] Holly shares how applying the Spoon Theory impacts managing her health. The Spoon Theory helps her create and maintain boundaries. She adamantly tries to stick to a schedule that rarely depletes her spoons per day. It’s still a work in progress. Holly has a therapist who is helping her work on it.


[31:08] Holly schedules social things on days when she has little to no other obligations. She has to maintain that schedule. She has good days and sometimes great weeks which leads her to add more to her plate, but then she runs out of spoons more quickly because she’s borrowing from the next day. Eventually, she has no spoons to borrow.


[31:42] Holly went on vacation for her birthday and then last week she was doing great, taking some urgent referrals for babies. This week, she had to cancel things. She is learning that she needs to schedule time to recharge and rest even on good days.


[32:26] Holly has learned there are ways to increase your number of spoons. The most important things are to be compliant with treatment and follow a specific diet (if recommended). A lot of chronic illnesses have a specific researched diet to help you stay healthy. When you have a cheat day, you’re harming yourself by taking spoons from your next day.


[33:31] Working out helps with anxiety and depression. There are physical and mental health benefits. Holly started tracking over the last eight months how many spoons working out earned for her, compared to the spoon it took from her. She finds that it adds three to five spoons to her daily reserve. The endorphins boost her energy.


[34:14] Ryan agrees. He goes to the gym at least twice a week. If he misses a day, he feels worse. He goes out for a walk on days he’s not going to the gym just to get moving and he feels better after that. Being stuck inside all day is mentally draining as well. Going for a walk takes extra effort but it does feel better.


[35:32] Ryan and his mother have similar food allergy issues so they both carefully stick to their diet. If they vary their diets on vacation, even without eating triggers or allergens, they feel physically bad for a few days until they get back to their usual diets.


[36:28] Once Holly learned about this theory and was making new contracts, she realized that there may be times when she might have to cancel and reschedule. When she sends an email about an engagement, she includes an article on the Spoon Theory and describes what she is struggling with, in case she has to reschedule.


[37:42] The Spoon Theory is a good way to describe to friends or family why the person with the chronic illness isn’t hosting the holiday but may need to go to a room and rest at the host’s home. It’s a tool to inform loved ones and friends so they can be supportive. It’s a different way to share our struggles with our chronic illness.

[38:27] When Ryan meets people and tells them about his health issues, he might say he has food allergies but then also explain how his conditions lead to a limited supply of energy, and then tell about the Spoon Theory. It’s a helpful tool we can all use, going forward.


[39:08] Our listeners can learn more about the Spoon Theory by going to Christine Miserandino’s website, 


[39:47] To learn more about eosinophilic disorders, visit If you’re looking for a specialist who treats eosinophilic disorders, use APFED’s specialist finder at

[40:05] To connect with others impacted by eosinophilic diseases, please join APFED’s online community on the Inspire Network at


[40:14] Ryan thanks Holly for sharing information about the Spoon Theory. It means a lot to Holly that we have a platform to reach a lot of people. Holly hopes if you are struggling with a chronic illness that you are not alone and you can use this tool to bring your loved ones and friends closer. Maybe weed out the people who aren’t helping.


[41:15] Holly thanks APFED’s education partners, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Regeneron, linked below, for supporting this episode.


[41:26] Ryan shares how he just met his partner’s friend and by discussing symptoms while picking a place to eat, it turns out she was diagnosed last year with EoE. It’s unusual for him to meet people with EoE out there randomly. Ryan is glad to be creating this resource for people. Holly agrees 1,000%.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Christine Miserandino
American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (APFED)

APFED on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram

Real Talk: Eosinophilic Diseases Podcast


Education Partners: This episode of APFED’s podcast is brought to you thanks to the support of AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, and Regeneron.




“Approximately 10 years ago, fatigue became a real challenge for me and as I researched options on how to manage fatigue, I came across the spoon theory, which is what we’re going to specifically discuss today.” — Holly Knotowicz


“[The Spoon Theory] is such an interesting story and it feels like such an easy way to convey what living with a chronic illness is like.” — Ryan Piansky

“We all have people in our lives whom we love dearly, but they could maybe be taking too many of our spoons, so you have to be thoughtful about when you plan time with them.” — Holly Knotowicz