The power of hope when making changes

Cathryn Arndt


It’s a powerful emotion, a potent fire that can burn in a very dark place. It looks ahead at the future with confidence.

Likely, we all have experience with hope in one way or another. In the context of health and food, it’s just as vital to our thriving well being as in any other area of life.

I experienced this in fresh ways recently that I thought might be fitting to share.

I have personally struggled with my health since my early teens. Digestive and hormonal issues, as well as bouts with depression (thanks to those other two imbalances), have been a persistent battle. It was actually those struggles that sparked my interest in health and nutrition and ultimately led me to becoming a registered dietitian.

In the last year, especially, those three issues have been a particular, reoccurring problem.

Honestly, I’ve grown tired of dealing with them. It has gotten old, real old, and its difficulty is exacerbated by the frustration my mindset often allows: “Shouldn’t you have figured this out by now? How can you be a dietitian and struggle with this particular problem? This seems to only be getting worse! What is the point in working at this so hard if it doesn’t make a difference?,” etc.

In the last year I’ve turned to including others in my quest to find a manageable solution to my problems – a naturopath, physical therapist and another dietitian (with whom I went to school).

After some recent testing, my doctor and I had an exchange that didn’t feel helpful at the time. The entire appointment felt overwhelming. There were no answers. In fact, things looked worse, more complicated, more confusing and despairing. It felt like a real blow.

“Why do I work so hard at this? Where is the progress?” I thought.

Then I saw my dietitian friend. With kindness and tact, she asked questions. She interpreted my labs and listened to my thoughts and to the disheartened emotions that spilled out despite my efforts. She gave me space. Then she entered into the conversation with hope. She offered insight and perspective that didn’t occur to my doctor or to me.

There actually were some reasons my labs (and my symptoms) might have been worse than we anticipated. She didn’t have all the solutions, but she did have some things to support me as I waited for more tests. She also reminded me of the progress I HAD made.

My entire outlook changed. Both appointments with my doctor and dietitian were on the same day and yet I felt entirely different after each: despair with one and hope with the other.

What was the difference? Perspective, mindset, kindness and knowledge.

Why this lengthy personal tale when I usually stick to facts, recipes and targeted advice? If I, as a knowledgeable dietitian who has been working on my health for decades, can feel discouraged by a lack of hope, what about you?

I can’t speak for your exact chronic health struggle. I certainly won’t pretend to. However, I do know (as evidenced by my story here) that we often stall progress and even interfere with healing by our mindset and despair when improvements may be around the corner. I want to encourage you with some basic mindsets that I believe can be powerful in promoting hope and a resolve to carry on in your health journey.

Hope must be founded on the truth. Otherwise, you have a false hope, a confidence based on something that isn’t real or credible. When we are working through health issues (especially chronic ones) there is a lot you don’t know. In the midst of the unknown, here are some truthful encouragements to give you hope as you press on or even begin to make changes to your health situation.

— You need more than one person to support you and give medical advice. Not one person has it all. More than ever, I believe you need several credible people to guide and support you. Both my doctor and dietitian have been helpful yet at different times and in different ways. Neither one has had 100% of what I needed, but I have needed both.

— Celebrate when you have a direction. It might not be all that you wanted (a special diet, etc.), but if you are confident in your provider, you can celebrate a direction somewhere rather than the disheartening place of “we don’t know what’s going on.”

— Remind yourself it likely won’t always be like this. One of the biggest discouragements when we feel sick is that “it will always be this bad.” Rarely is that 100% true. There are ebbs and flows to health issues, Don’t get sucked into believing it will always be this way. It neither helps healing nor motivates you to find answers.

— The best changes for your body take time. Growth is rarely a perfect upward line. It circles back on itself. Some health changes will show immediate improvements, but most take time, especially when habit or mindset changes are involved. Don’t grow weary while the changes take time.

— Have realistic goals. Realistic means practical, true-to-life, sensible and reasonable. Really big goals can still be realistic when they remain practical and doable for you. If you need to lose 40 pounds, then don’t focus on that big number as much as the next two pounds. Those pounds are a practical goal to focus on as you inch toward your finish line.

— If change isn’t happening even when you think it should, something else might need to change, not just the thing you’re working on. Food issues are complex, because so many things come into play: integrity of digestion, foods consumed on a regular basis, hormone balance, amount of sleep and other medical issues. If you’ve made great strides with changing your diet but still have unresolved issues, you might need to pivot and give something else your attention. This isn’t defeat. It’s expanding solutions.

— Acknowledge the things that are going right and the changes you’ve made and sustained. Sometimes we forget how far we have come or changed for the better (even if our health situation didn’t). Don’t forget those positive strides forward.

— Know what you are going to do if you remain disappointed. Since our bodies are not perfect, each of us will feel the defects of our mortality at some point and to varying degrees. We might make huge improvements in a chronic health issue. But at the end of the day, all these other mindsets won’t overcome the disappointing reality that our bodies will never be flawless.

So have a solid plan for how you will accept and deal with that disappointment. Personally, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and trusting Him and His plan, is the only way I can move forward with purpose and perspective even when my body continues to fail me.

Your life and body don’t have to be perfect to be livable and even delightful. We can live well, even if we are a little bit broken. There are beautiful things to enjoy even if we enjoy them from a different place than we thought. The “hard things” don’t have to rob you of the best things.

I still haven’t found all the answers that I hope will make life as a busy wife, mom and friend more manageable from a health standpoint. I await answers, but I await with some real encouragements in my back pocket that help me remain focused as I move forward. I wish the same for you.

Cathryn Arndt is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and owns a nutrition counseling business called The Pantry Lab LLC. She lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband and daughters. Visit her Facebook page by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.”