Campus Life

Q&A with Dietitian Janet Dance

Eating healthy on campus can be challenging for some students, but it’s not impossible according to Janet Dance, UCA Registered Dietitian. Dance works for ARAMARK and the UCA Student Health Center. She is also an adjunct nutrition professor. Dance graduated from UCA with a Master’s in nutrition.


When did you realize that you wanted to be a dietitian and why?

“I was a stay-at-home mom and began learning healthy eating skills for my family. As I learned, I began having friends ask me for advice. I found such joy in helping them and wanted to learn more to help others. I decided to come back to UCA and get my master’s in nutrition and become a registered dietitian. I love being a dietitian.”


Do you see a nutrition problem among college students at UCA? What are the main causes for that?

“Yes I do. I think the biggest reason is because they do not see how what they eat today is determining how healthy they will be 10 plus years down the road. Many still have that, “I’m just a kid” mentality and do not take it seriously. I think besides the not wanting to, there is a lot of temptation. Unhealthy food is everywhere and it is hard to stay strong day after day when it is so easy to indulge.”


What are some ways to eat healthier on campus?

“It is actually very easy to eat healthy on campus. The best place to eat healthy is the Christian Cafeteria. If you can handle an all-you-can-eat atmosphere, you can get the benefits of so many healthy options. I hear all the time students say that the cafeteria is unhealthy. I eat there every day I am at work and not only is there healthy food, but it really tastes great. You can be very unhealthy too if your choices are pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, higher calorie items and the dessert bar. There are also options in the C-Store and Student Center food court. The secret to success there is to look up nutrition information and go in with a plan. Quiznos, Einsteins, Starbucks and others have really great options but they have really bad ones too. If it is a chain it will have nutrition information online. Some have nutrition posted. Know the healthy options before you order.”


Could you provide a few examples of food that would be healthy and taste good at the same time? Maybe some alternatives to “junk” food, fast food, soda and candies? 

“Let’s be honest, fat, sugar and salt, it’s what makes food taste good. Will my healthy diet match up in flavor to a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a shake? No. We are not comparing apples to apples there.
Can healthy food taste good? You bet.
If a student has been raised on the kid’s menu and junk food snacks then they may have spoiled taste buds.
It may take some time for them to learn to enjoy foods that are not fat-laden and drenched in sodium. Some of my favorite special only occasionally treats [include]Tropical Smoothies made with Splenda/no sugar and Starbucks skinny lattes. Every week, snack treats include fresh fruit, silk chocolate soy milk light either cold or heated as hot chocolate, fruit popsicles like Dreyer’s Outshine bars, string cheese (reduced fat), cocoa almonds, cereal with skim milk, no sugar added pudding with fruit.”


How can one develop the habit of eating healthy food and stick to it all the time?

“Let me first say that eating healthy does not mean you can never eat anything unhealthy. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which is based on the latest science in nutrition, we have about 100 – 150 calories to “waste” a day. Wasting would be things like added sugars (beverages, snack food) and added fat (butter, Ranch, snack foods).

The problem is, on average, according to the largest nutrition survey in America, many teenagers and young adults get over half of their calorie needs from added fats and added sugar.
So the problem is volume.
With that said, how to develop a healthy eating habit?
Start with small changes and continually add to them.
I suggest starting with reducing the amount of added sugar.
That may mean dropping some beverages and replacing them with water.
Another idea may be to focus on a healthy breakfast.
Make the goal one dairy, one fruit and a whole grain like my favorite breakfast: skim milk and oatmeal with fruit in it.
Once that change is habit, begin working on another one.”


What tendency of nutrition do you presently see in the U.S.? Do you think more people eat healthier now?

“I think we are more educated about nutrition than ever but as a nation there is not a change for the better. Overweight and obesity continues to increase – two out of every three adults now – unhealthy foods out sell healthy foods, and heart disease, cancer, and other diseases related to poor eating continue to rise.
We know what we should do, we just don’t.”


What’s the most important thing one should take into consideration if he wants to become a dietitian?

“You will need to love to learn.
Nutrition is a baby science and we learn new things every year.
A registered dietitian will have to keep up and stay informed.”


What are some interesting things about being a dietitian?

“Helping people and watching them change their destiny.
Being at a university allows me to step in before they are diagnosed with diabetes and before they have had that heart attack and help them prevent it.”


What should you be prepared to face if you are going to be a dietitian?

I joke and say if your self-esteem depends on results at work, do not become a dietitian.
I know that by far most of the people I see will not change, they will be excited and motivated for a few weeks and then they realize the work it takes and they quit.
Then there are the few that get it; I mean really get it.
I am here for those people and I can only hope that one day everyone I counsel will be at least one step closer to health.”


What are some ways to overcome temptation of eating something unhealthy?

“Eat something unhealthy. Seriously.
Allow occasional “temptations.”
The secret is not in perfection but in having an overall day-in and day-out healthy diet.
Eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy and lean protein while limiting sodium, added sugar and added fat on a day-to-day basis. Watch calories and exercise throughout the week.
That is what keeps a person lean and healthy.
Most of us eat like every day is our birthday.
We eat only the best tasting stuff, whether it is healthy or not, and then have “cake” for dessert. Other practical ways to avoid temptation: control your environment and educate yourself on the foods you eat.”

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