Feature a Friend Friday – Megan Applegate 2


Briefly, describe yourself as you see yourself

I have no idea how to describe myself. I have never been good at writing about myself. Cover letters and statements of purpose are the banes of my existence. I met my boyfriend (Nate) on match.com and he likes to tell people that I did a terrible job of describing myself in my profile, but it worked out pretty well, anyway ;). I guess I prefer to consider myself as a dynamic person rather than putting myself in a box. I am definitely a planner (hence, the borderline OCD meal prepping); and yet, I love the feeling of spontaneity. I love my dog, exercising, my niece and nephew, all foods (especially with some combination of bread and cheese), craft beer, and surprising people with an unplanned visit or the perfect gift.

Megan dancing

Some things stay the same.

I feel like I have changed A LOT over the past decade – I used to be very self-conscious, constantly worried about what other people thought about me and feeling like I had to explain myself. I had a hard time in high school. I tried to be confident and embrace my inner weirdo, but teenagers are assholes (me included). I did not like who I was then. Once I let go of the anxiety of pleasing everyone around me and comparing myself to others, which didn’t really happen until I started grad school, I was able to grow and change into who I am today, and I am much happier for it. I strive to be a lifelong learner.

Why is exercise physiology and nutrition important to you? Do you have defining/inspiring moments?

I feel like I wasn’t outright encouraged to make healthy choices growing up. I didn’t have an unhealthy environment – nobody in my house smoked or drank and we didn’t have terrible diets, but we also didn’t do many physically active things as a family or in school.

In high school, you could pass PE by walking circles around the gym for the whole class. What the hell? Why didn’t they make us sweat? I played some sports and I danced for 16 years, but I chose to do those things. Nobody said, “Hey, you should really get involved in a team sport because it’s great for your health and teamwork skills! Or at least do some recreational physical activity!”

In all of that, I wasn’t ever really encouraged to push myself. Dancing kept me in shape (sort of), but I would have been a much better dancer, stronger, and healthier if we had to do some cardio training and weight lifting. If so, I probably wouldn’t have sustained the shoulder injury that ended my dancing career. Eating fast food every day for lunch was also not a great choice, but who was telling me not to? No one.

I kept up those unhealthy habits into college. I stopped dancing after my freshman year and didn’t replace that physical activity with a regular routine because dance had always been enough and I didn’t know how to exercise any other way. I was going to school for exercise science and planning on going to physical therapy school, so I was learning more and more about how these habits were really affecting my health.

I was getting mad about why this hadn’t been more obvious to me when I was younger. I met some really great friends with healthier lifestyles in college and grad school and they played a big part in inspiring me to live a healthier life. I quit smoking (I know, I know), started really exercising, and challenged myself to try.

I met some really great friends with healthier lifestyles in college and grad school and they played a big part in inspiring me to live a healthier life. I quit smoking (I know, I know), started really exercising, and challenged myself to try new and healthy food. My defining moment was realizing that knowledge about health is not something that you should have to develop as an adult.

Why Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology and Psychology? Any thoughts on a career?

I originally wanted to be a physical therapist, but I couldn’t tell you why. I’m glad I didn’t follow through with that, because I’m pretty sure I would hate being a clinician. Two of my favorite professors at St. Ambrose felt that I was well-suited for academia and encouraged me to look into research graduate programs. I had an internship at St. Ambrose during my senior year as the first health and wellness coordinator for the university, and really developed my interest in health education during that time.

I went to Ohio University for my MS in Exercise Physiology and studied the effect of high-intensity interval training on the glycemic response. I really enjoyed the combination of exercise and nutrition in my research. I had been intending to look into PhD programs for exercise-intensity with an emphasis on nutrition, but after a pretty rough experience completing my MS and being exposed to the ridiculous politics within academia, I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I worked as a research assistant in a physical therapy research lab at OU that studied low back pain as I was finishing up my MS. That turned into a full-time study coordinator position.

My boss encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. in his lab along with a co-advisor in the psychology department through an interdisciplinary program. It was a great opportunity and it fell right into my lap. Right now, I get to study low back pain using virtual reality video gaming. It is a completely different direction than I had planned to go, but I’m doing really interesting work and getting some great teaching experience.

I would ultimately love to go to a small school like St. Ambrose to teach. I enjoy doing research, but if you go to a large research institution, your job security depends on how productive your research line is, how many grants you get, and how many papers you publish, and not at all on how good of a teacher you are. If I’m going to teach, it is going to be my main priority. I could also go into industry, doing research for a company like FitBit.

How did you learn to cook and meal prep like a boss? What’s the hardest thing about meal prep for you?

I taught myself to cook using recipes I found online. At first, it was whatever looked good; then, I started looking for ways to make the recipes healthier. I rely heavily on Pinterest to find healthy recipes and inspiration for healthy meals.

megans meal prep

Doesn’t this look awesome?

The meal-prepping started when Nate and I started dating. Grad school doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like cooking healthy meals every night, so the meal-prepping was mostly out of necessity. Nate lived in Columbus, I lived in Athens, and we would cook together on Sundays before we headed home for the week. We started by making 1 or 2 dishes to eat for every meal during the week. That got pretty boring.

After we moved in together, we tried to make the meals more interesting, which is definitely the hardest part. There are a few staples in our lunch boxes every week – cheese, hard-boiled egg, nuts, fruit. I try to make the dishes as colorful as possible and use whole grains or replace rice with cauliflower rice and noodles with zucchini noodles to keep our daily carbs in check.

What is your philosophy on exercise? Do you lift weights?

Exercise is the single best thing you can do for yourself. It is good for your body and for your mind. If you are having a shitty day, you will almost always feel better after you have taken even just 20 minutes to sweat it out. It is the first line of defense for so many issues. Blood pressure starting to get a little high? Cholesterol creeping into the 200s? Blood sugar entering the pre-diabetic zone? Feeling a little depressed lately? Exercise can improve all of these things and it is the first thing your doctor is going to suggest. It does not matter what your motivation is. If you’re working out to look good in a swimsuit, you’re still reaping the health benefits and improving yourself.

Megan working out

Crushin’ those TRX bands

I do a little bit of everything. We all get into a comfort zone, but variety is essential. A balanced exercise regimen should include cardio, agility, strength, and flexibility training. I have never been a runner, but I try to get 10 miles in every week. For a while, I was doing 20-25 per week and ended up with an IT band injury due to weak glutes that kept me from running for over a year. So I increased the strength training and replaced my long distance runs with sprint intervals. I LOVE weight lifting. Strength training is so important, especially for women.

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

My mom is one of the strongest people I will ever know. She has been through it all, but she got back up every time life knocked her down. She’ll call bull shit when she sees it and I’m glad I got that from her. She’s also hilarious.

Megan and her mom

Megan and her mother at graduation

What do you feel is your biggest obstacle in career and health?

Motivation. I want to be good at what I do, and be my healthiest self, but maintaining that level of commitment every day is not easy. I get off track all the time and the anxiety about accomplishing my goals gets rough. But I take it a day at a time and try to keep moving forward.

What do you wish everyone knew about nutrition/exercise psychology?

It isn’t one specific thing about exercise physiology or psychology or nutrition. It is just that research is so fickle. One study does not prove anything. What works for one group of people doesn’t work for another group of people.

Everything has to be taken with a grain of salt. There is no magic pill, although so many studies and products want you to think there is. Information is always changing – one day eggs are bad for you; the next, they are the best source of fat you can eat. Being skeptical about what you read until you really understand what is going on is key.

Any favorite passages or quotes that guide you?

 

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver” – Mahatma Gandhi

What are you most grateful for?

My health. We talk about how hard it is to exercise and eat healthy and BE healthy, but some people don’t even have that opportunity. Some people don’t get to decide whether or not to go for a run because they can’t. They don’t get to decide whether to make the healthy food choice because they don’t have one. We are SO SPOILED to have the option to choose to be healthy.

Megan and her niece and nephew

Who are you living for?

How do you Simply Kill It Every Day?

I hate not following through with something I have promised to do, whether to myself or to someone else. I try not to take steps back when I can help it, and push myself to be better than yesterday.

Who would you feature in your life?

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