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Opinion

Staying healthy on the Hill

By Sonia Sidhu      

Around 9 million Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes, and the busy lifestyle of MPs can cause difficulty in making healthy choices. Liberal MP and veteran healthcare specialist Sonia Sidhu has some tips, and a pledge of her own, for staying healthy on the Hill.

Liberal MP for Brampton South, and previously a healthcare specialist for 18 years, Sonia Sidhu—pictured here taking part in a paramedic ride-along in her riding—wants MPs, like all Canadians, to focus on healthy living, despite busy, hectic lifestyles. Photograph courtesy of Sonia Sidhu's Twitter page
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newresizedI have provided guidance about healthy eating and healthy living to many people living with diabetes, as well as preventive advice for those who don’t. Diabetes education, raising my three kids, and my family were my life before elected office.

As you may know, having an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, inactivity, and several other things place people at risk for Type 2 diabetes, and many other conditions. I am fully aware of how the daily behaviours of many Canadians can result in negative health outcomes, and yet I too struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle due to the busy life of a Member of Parliament.

The all-consuming schedule of being an MP means that often we grab fast food on the go, even when my team and I know it’s the not the best choice for us. Often we rush meals between meetings, which is not the best habit for eating healthy food and doesn’t leave time for proper digestion. The late work hours also means eating late at night, on occasion, which is another unfortunate choice.

This job requires early mornings, late nights, hours and hours in meetings, and lots of time away from home—all of which make it hard to live by the best practices I outlined for patients in my 18 years as healthcare specialist. Given that it is Diabetes Awareness Month and 9 million Canadians are impacted by diabetes or prediabetes—and 60 per cent of Canadians struggle with being overweight or obese—I feel it is important to highlight some tactics for healthy living:

  • Drink lots of water! It’s good for mental and physical health. Try to avoid regular consumption of sugar sweetened-beverages
  • Start your meal with a full glass of water, then your salad, fruits, and vegetables
  • Think about portion size before making your choice, and stop eating before you feel too full
  • Ask to have your meal choice prepared differently (e.g. baked instead of fried, sauce on the side)
  • Snack options at meetings and on the road can sometimes be unhealthy. Try to have nuts, seeds, apples or pre-cut carrots to eat while on-the-go
  • Say “no” to food at meetings and conferences when you are not hungry

There are many more tips worth adding to your daily routine. Please consult a full list of simple, easy changes on the Canadian Diabetes Association website.

Healthy living is not only an individual choice, but a function of our work environment. I plan on implementing the following changes—which starts as my 21-day challenge to End Diabetes—for meetings that I host to help those around me:

  • I will not serve sugar-sweetened beverages at meetings, and will offer water instead
  • I will not serve high-calorie, low-nutrient foods at events I hold on the Hill, and will instead do my best to offer healthy, fresh foods
  • I will raise awareness and encourage communities to offer healthier options at times of cultural celebration

Change is hard. So I suggest taking small steps, and allow time for your tastes to adapt to your new healthy habits. I know I will make mistakes, and I will have bad days—but every day I try again. I encourage you to join me on this journey. Please email or tweet [@SoniaLiberal ] me your own healthy living tips and we can implement change together.

I hope everyone will—in solidarity with the Canadian Diabetes Association and the 9 million Canadians who live with diabetes or prediabetes—take the 21-day challenge to End Diabetes and embrace healthy habits.

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