My healthy life: Dr. Judy Patterson

Family physician Judy Patterson found balance’by joining the Canadian Forces

My healthy life: Dr. Judy Patterson

Source: Best Health Magazine, October 2008

There’s no life like it—especially if you want to stay fit. That’s what Dr. Judy Patterson anticipated when she joined the Canadian Forces in 2003. Over the previous five years, the then-43-year-old Calgary family physician and mother of four had battled her way to a healthy weight and good health. She’d dropped 75 pounds from her five-foot-seven-inch frame, taken up running and was covering 10 kilometres four or five times a week. But the grind of her 80-hour-plus workweek had her looking for a change.

Today, Captain Patterson couldn’t be happier. In 2005, she served in Afghanistan as a primary care physician for soldiers, calling it one of the best experiences of her life. When she’s overseas or on manoeuvres, she basically works 24/7, but back in Ottawa, now her home, her week is balanced with work, workouts and time for family. At age 48, she’s in the best shape she’s ever been in. “Staying fit is part of the job,” she says.

Hello, breakfast

“Before I lost the weight, I’d grab a muffin—basically, cake—at about 10 in the morning. I stopped eating them, but was skipping breakfast. When I plateaued at about 160 pounds, a registered dietitian convinced me to eat a healthy breakfast, and I lost my last 20 pounds.”

Runner’s high

“Doing the Terry Fox Run in Kabul in 2005 (shown in the photo) was amazing! It was incredibly dusty, but the day was sunny and there were soldiers along the route encouraging us. I’m competitive, so it was especially satisfying to run faster than some of the camp leaders!”

Learning from labels

“When you look at the nutrition labels on some whole-wheat bread, you realize there’s not much more fibre in them than in white bread. I call it ‘white bread with sprinkles.’ Or you buy something that says it’s low fat, but don’t realize it’s high in sugar.”

Expanding your options

“Sometimes it’s easier to eat healthy by exploring food from other cultures; you discover flavours that don’t just rely on fat and salt. I love the cinnamon used in lots of North African dishes.”

No-cook health saver

“When I stayed in officers’ quarters, there were no cooking facilities. So I lived on my chop-and-serve Greek salad: tomatoes, peppers, feta, onions, cucumbers, capers, olives, oregano, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.”

Quality counts

“My indulgences are good wine and chocolate. With really good chocolate, I don’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied.”

Me time

“My gym time has become me time. I tune out the world with music, everything from contemporary bagpipes by Chris Armstrong—my favourite—to Québecois music like La Bottine Souriante. My tastes are very eclectic!”

This article was originally titled "My healthy life," in the October 2008 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!