Even through my sleep-glazed eyes, it’s clear that Sangita Patel exudes effortless energy. She’s third-espresso-shot bubbly when I meet her for our 8 a.m. interview – so awake, she even has the brainpower to make jokes. Our chat is the beginning of an intense half-day shoot with Best Health and only a brief part of her busy, jam-packed day. But busyness comes with the territory for Patel, who juggles two jobs: being an on-air reporter for Entertainment Tonight Canada and the host of HGTV’s Home To Win, which has been picked up for a second season. She is also a mother of two, a social media maven and, oh you know, a professional engineer.
It’s a big change for Patel to be answering questions rather than asking them. She tells me she always approaches her interviews with the attitude that whoever she’s talking to is now her best friend, somehow being able to get past the fact her pal is Julia Roberts or Ryan Reynolds. As she cracks up the Best Health crew with her signature quips, I quickly realize it’s going to be no different when she is on the other side of the chair. It’s her approachability that has brought about incredible moments on the job for Patel – like challenging Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to a push-up contest (brave) and getting George Clooney to make her a coffee (dreamy).
For the born-and-raised Torontonian, being on-camera was her aspiration, and it’s one she worked hard for. After becoming an electrical engineer (she worked in the field for five years, earned her professional engineering designation and still dons her iron ring), she decided to chase her dream. She began volunteering at Rogers TV on top of her nine-to-five job and was soon finding work in the media. She has worked at The Weather Network, City TV and Breakfast Television, and eventually became an on-air reporter at ET Canada.
Now, when she’s not chatting with A-listers, she’s hosting HGTV’s Home To Win. Oh, and did I mention she’s a personal trainer and an avid CrossFitter, too? I sat down to talk with Patel about her decision to chase her passion and to find out how she was strong enough to catch it.
You started out as an electrical engineer and ended up as a TV host. What prompted you to make that change?
Isn’t it crazy? I became an engineer because I always loved math and science, but there was still that passion in the background [for television]. After I started volunteering and working in TV, I just fell in love with it. I realized what I love to do is talk to people. I always tell myself to talk to someone new every day because I’ll learn something new. I don’t feel like my day is finished unless I talk to a new person, even if it’s a stranger on the street.
I fully made the career change when I started working at City TV. It was one of the most incredible and hardest experiences of my life. My second day on Breakfast Television, I got called into the office by my boss. He closed the door and said, “Patel, you don’t care what you do on television. Keep it that way!” And I haven’t changed since.
What has been your favourite experience as an ET Canada reporter?
My favourite moments are when I actually get to sit down, talk to people and just make them feel warm. [Celebrities] go all day repeating the same things, so when you catch them off guard, it’s just wonderful. I’ve had some pretty incredible moments with celebrities, one of the best being with Helen Mirren. I usually don’t get starstruck, but I walked into the room and she was just cursing about her bottle of water. I was like, “She’s the coolest person in the world.”
Since working on Home To Win, has your home decor game improved?
Oh my gosh, has it ever! On the first day of Home To Win, I had the team over and had all the top designers and contractors in my house. I cleared out a room because I wanted them to visualize what they’d do to it. It’s coming together now and it’s so pretty! It has inspired me to finish up the rooms in my house, like I did the hallway, put up wainscoting and have been building a gallery.
Your professional life keeps you busy. How do you deal with daily stress?
I stay very positive and have a great support system. My husband is my best friend and really keeps me stress-free. He’s the one who’ll say, “Seriously, what are you stressed about?” and I’m like, “OK, you’re right, I just cracked a nail.” I also like to make sure things are scheduled. I think all women are good at that – we’re all good at multi-tasking.
How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
You have to make it part of your routine. Even when I travel for two days, I take my running shoes with me and I’ll make sure I either run or go to the gym at the hotel. You have to put it in your schedule and stick to it, even if it’s just half an hour at the gym after work or a run. Whatever it is, just get up and start being active.
Let’s switch gears. What’s your favourite way to exercise?
I’ve always been into fitness. I have my Fitness Instructor Specialist certification and I love kickboxing. But after my second child, I noticed the weight wasn’t going back and I was weak, too. Women are prone to osteoporosis, so I wanted to know how to protect myself from that. That’s when I learned how important it is for women to have muscle mass, so I decided to start doing CrossFit. I love it! I can squat more than my own weight now, which is kind of crazy! Now it’s even become a family thing – my husband started coming two years ago and my daughters do a kids’ program on Sundays.
Since we’re on the topic, what made you start doing #FitnessTuesday on Instagram?
My boss knew I was into fitness and suggested I make some videos. I created my own hashtag (I chose Tuesday since there’s no other major hashtag that day) and then realized I was stuck making a video every week. But then I checked my Instagram inbox and found over a hundred messages from people who were inspired by it. One woman really wanted to lose weight and messaged me back eight months later telling me she’d lost 20 pounds. Now I can’t stop [making the videos]. It’s motivating people to try new things, like picking up a 20-pound weight rather than just five-pounders.
What part of exercise do you hate but do anyway?
I hate running without a destination. I still do cardio because you need to – I just find alternative ways. I’ll do it with weights or I’ll skip rope or box.
How important is nutrition to your well-being?
I love food, especially wood-oven pizza with basil and mozzarella. Mmm. So, I’ll have that pizza Friday night, but then most days I’ll eat healthy. I try to “eat clean” 70 percent of the time and avoid snacking. If I need a midday snack, I’ll have almond butter on a rice cake or berries. I have to always watch my sugar and carb intake because I love bread. Who doesn’t love bread?
On the home front, you’re dealing with some health issues with your daughter.
Yes. When Ava was one, we found out she was allergic to milk, soy, all nuts and chickpeas and severely allergic to seafood. On top of that, she has eczema and asthma. It’s hard to see your child go through that – you’d prefer it happen to you instead. I remember the first birthday party she went to, she really wanted cake and couldn’t have it. At that point, she taught herself what she can and can’t have. As a mother, I’ve found eggless recipes and foods she can eat because I don’t want her to just eat pasta and chicken fingers. But she has started to grow and try new things and we’re at a good point.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photography by Alvaro Goveia • Styling by Ingrie Williams • Hair + Makeup by Joanne Parks