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Tending to parents, children, and work, members of the sandwich generation can feel hopelessly overburdened. Billie, a 49-year-old working mother who wanted to lose 35 pounds, was no exception. What was exceptional, given how helpless Billie felt, was that she'd found my couch.

"I don't care enough about myself to care what I eat," this worn-out ad exec confessed. Or to care when she ate, or if she ever got a minute alone. Putting herself last was as automatic to Billie as making coffee. Incessant demands from her business partner, her teenage daughter, and her elderly mother had convinced Billie she didn't have time to peel an orange, let alone leave her desk to eat. Like the Super Size Me filmmaker, she kept eating junk food despite the weight gain and the toll on her health. If she was going to get serious about slimming down and going off blood pressure medication, Billie would have to start putting herself first. Dieting would feel too depriving, she realized, unless she stopped depriving herself of alone time. At first she could find only 15 minutes a day to listen to a personalized hypnosis tape or a Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness meditation CD (from MindfulnessTapes.com). (Early studies indicate that mindfulness training significantly reduces compulsive overeating.) But she began setting up regular dates with a masseuse and made it a priority to relax at night with a tape or a book. Recharging her batteries in these small but significant ways allowed Billie to make other positive changes (packing a healthy lunch instead of grabbing fast food, rejoining the gym), and she began losing weight at a most unlikely time-between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

"I am not at my goal yet," she recently e-mailed, 20 pounds lighter. "But I know I will succeed."

There's no shortage of reasons to put yourself last, but promoting yourself to first even a few hours a week makes shifting to "I can" possible. You're taking an important first step out of helplessness, taking charge in the smallest but most powerful way. You're valuing yourself-and giving your mind enough quiet space to think. When you can think, you can begin to see possibilities of what might work for you.

Next: Taking care of business

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