Cool job: Health and wellness coach

Sandy Sardella White's curiosity about other people led her to pursue a career in journalism, where she carved out a niche as a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. White contributed regularly to The Boston Herald and Harvard Medical School's Special Health Reports, and co-authored "The Children's Hospital Guide to Your Child's Health" and other books.

Writing about prevention and self-help techniques made White more aware of how she could improve her own diet and exercise habits.

"I recognized how much healthy eating and lifestyle affects diseases," White says. "I have cancer on my mother's side and heart disease on my father's side, so I was very intrigued."

Taking stock of her career, White diagnosed in herself a need to help others more directly. She decided to build on her background in writing and research to become a health and wellness coach.

"When you write about health topics, you start to take it in and live it," she says. "Through holistic eating, I transformed my life in terms of my energy and focus. I'm extremely enthusiastic about being in a position to take this to other people."

Schooled on good practices

Before hanging up her virtual shingle, White enrolled in a year-long training program offered by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The New York-based school features such nationally known faculty as Dr. Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, and best-selling author Geneen Roth.

But conveniently for White, who lives outside Boston with her husband and three daughters, the program is a virtual one. Using an iPad provided by the school, she took classes covering dietary theories, practical lifestyle management tools and coaching techniques.

"You do it all online -- it's very flexible," she says.

Having completed the requirements and trained with a mentor from the program, White is now certified as a holistic health coach.

"I'm not just looking at what a person eats, I'm looking at their whole life -- their relationships, their career," she says. "A lot of things might impact how you eat. People have emotional eating habits. They know what they have to do, but they may not do it."

Prescription for healthy living

To build her client base, White is learning how to market her services in the real world and online. She is teaching a series of seminars on healthy eating and related topics at her local YMCA and Whole Foods Market. She also has created her own website and Facebook page, and has written blog posts for Mind Body Green and other sites. Her efforts have yielded local clients, as well as ones as far away as Canada and Maryland.

"Because I own my business, I can't be shy about promoting myself, and it takes a little getting used to," she says.

For anyone interested in her services, White offers a free consultation and evaluation, after which a client can choose to enroll in a six-month program. However, the idea behind her coaching is not to compel someone to follow a certain routine, but to empower them to find the right approach.

"I don't prescribe a diet -- it's about changing how you see food," White says. "I work with the individual to find out what works for them."

Ah-ha moments

Prior to starting her new career, White had to maintain a certain level of objectivity as a reporter. Now she can celebrate those times when her clients make progress.

"I really like working one-on-one with people," White says. "That's one of the reasons I liked being a reporter. My favorite part was sitting down with people getting to know them. I've already had moments where people get it and have that ah-ha moment."

One client, whose goal was to lose weight, initially seemed skeptical about her plan, but has become a believer after starting to feel the difference.

"Working with me, she realigned her approach," White says. "Now she feels great and says she has more energy than she ever has."

This work also has helped White improve her own habits. Already a healthy cook, she pretty much has stopped buying processed foods, and refocused her family's diet around leafy greens and whole grains.

"The school teaches you to be your own 'brand,' and I feel younger and healthier," she says.

However, White still must try to overcome the skeptics at home -- her 17-, 15- and 10-year-old daughters -- so, to keep the peace, she will buy the occasional loaf of white bread.

More about Sandy Sardella White

1. What did you eat for breakfast? Oatmeal with rice milk, with fruit and a dab of maple syrup

2. Which day of the week is your favorite? Sunday, because it's family day and I have time to cook a homemade meal

3. Which day of the week is your least favorite? Monday, having to get up and organize the week

4. What was the first job you ever had? Waitress at the Jersey shore

5. What makes you angry? When my kids don't listen

6. What makes you joyful? Going to a spa

7. If you could have any job, other than your own, what would it be? Health coach at a spa with treatments included

8. If you had the time and the money to study anything at all, what would you choose? Integrative medicine, combining Eastern and Western philosophies

9. What did you want to be when you grew up? TV journalist

10. Can money bring you happiness? Sometimes, but there's definitely more to life