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Walking while she works

Doctor moves West and makes radical changes in her lifestyle
by: Jim Hart Jean Riquelme, M.D., stands on her treadmill, which is under the only desk in her office. Riquelme uses the treadmill while working at her desk as a part of her weight-loss exercise program.

For more than four decades, Jean Riquelme, M.D., lived in a in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where she said there was no fresh food.

Her diet, typical for a family with German-Polish-Russian roots, included a lot of bratwurst, deep-fried fish, fried potatoes, fried cheese curds and bakery delicacies.

Her husband's job was transferred, and they moved to Oregon late last year. Even after 20 years in family medical practice, she was not the picture of health. Her body, just 5 feet tall, weighed 270 pounds.

Something had to change. She knew she needed radical adjustments in her lifestyle.

Getting started was the issue.

Holding her thumb and forefinger just one-eighth-inch apart, she said, 'I was this close to diabetes (due to her weight) when I came to Oregon. And I wanted to lose weight. But I never had a job where they cared about your personal health, like they do here (at the Sandy Adventist Health Clinic, where she is on staff).

'I also wanted to walk the talk for my patients. If you're really fat and you tell your patient to lose weight, they're like: 'you first.' '

In mid-January, she began a three-week 'Kick Start' program to become a vegetarian, because research has shown pre-diabetics are better off with a vegetarian diet.

'It was pretty compelling science,' she said. 'This is the statement that I read that totally changed my life: 'The latest studies on diabetes show that a vegetarian diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat is the best dietary prescription for controlling diabetes.' '

That gave her confidence. She joined a support group, but she still needed to lose fat, and she knew that couldn't be accomplished without increasing muscles.

'Fat can only be burned fast in your muscles,' she said. 'But my job is totally sedentary. I was a TV addict; the only exercise I had was walking my dog.'

Then she began a supervised exercise program.

Six months into the program, she awakes at 3 a.m., goes to the gym at 4 a.m. each day, logging at least 45 minutes of lifting weights twice a week, 30 minutes of cardio every day on the stationary bicycle or rowing machine and 1 or 2 miles of swimming every day.

She adds resistance training during her lunch hour at work. She also walks her dog every day and hikes local trails every weekend she's not working at the Sandy Urgent Care Center.

And she burns calories at work by standing instead of sitting.

She removed her desk and all the chairs from her office and installed a treadmill with a wrap-around computer table hovering over it. Now she can walk for exercise while she's working. She logs from 2 to 4 miles each day.

Riquelme also keeps things interesting with horseback riding, kayaking and salsa dancing. Her face beams with pride when she talks about her climb up Multnomah Falls.

'I never thought I'd ever be able to do that,' she said.

All of these exercises are under the watchful eye of a medical doctor.

Another doctor.

'I don't doctor myself,' she said. 'I'm not that dumb.'

Now she's looking forward to riding a bicycle, perhaps by summer's end. She has wanted to ride a bike all her life, but she'd run short of breath when she tried to ride, and it was difficult to find a bike that would hold her weight.

Riquelme praised the program she is using, but admitted it was difficult to begin. She had to give up caffeine, which slows weight loss; set a bedtime alarm for 7:30 p.m. every day so she would remember to go to bed early; eat breakfast every day; change to a vegetarian diet; eat small meals more often; begin a multifaceted exercise program; and count calories.

This summer she's trying to become vegan instead of just vegetarian because she has read some research that says consuming less animal products of any type is good for blood vessel health.

Her next step is to learn how to meditate better. She wants to join a group because research has shown meditation is heart healthy and helps lower blood pressure.

'(This program) does change your life,' she said. 'It's so hard to start, but studies show once you do anything for three weeks, it becomes much easier.'

When she steps on the scale today, she'll be in the mid-180s, about 85 pounds less than she was six months ago.

Of course, that brings a smile to her face, but she wears an even wider smile every time she has to go shopping.

For clothing of a smaller size.