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I bet most of you don’t believe in ghosts and goblins. If someone were having a conversation with one, you’d probably roll your eyes and wonder what was wrong with them. But having interactions with something that isn’t real is exactly what you do every time you engage with irrational thoughts about food, eating, and weight.

This may comes as a surprise, but you do not need to make a connection with and throw your energy into every thought that passes through your mind. Think of these wisps of biochemical energy as ghosts, as things of the past or products of your imagination that have no true substance. There are ghosts from your family—what your mother, father or other relatives told you that got stuck in your head. Maybe these messages served a purpose at the time or were wrong-headed even back then. Either way, they certainly have no relevance to the healthy, happy life you want to lead now. For example, it’s the ghost of a figure in your history that tells you to clean your plate, eat past full, or nosh when you’re not hungry. It’s not the sensible, mature adult you are today who wants to take good care of yourself and eat “normally.”

There are also ghosts of your former self. Maybe you often went to bed with an empty stomach as a child and vowed never to feel hungry again. When you currently fill yourself up with food prophylactically, you’re not in reality, but acting in response to a messenger who has outlived her usefulness. Or perhaps you were teased a great deal because of your weight in childhood and the ghost of that victim lives within you and gets irate now when anyone mentions your size. You don’t have to respond to that ghost. You can ignore her or label her as a voice from another time.

In a way, we really do live with ghosts, those representations from the past which don’t quite feel as if they belong to yesterday, and still hang around dictating the way we live today. You get entangled with your ghosts when you take them seriously and act as if they have meaning or try to debate them and win an argument. But how can you get the better of something that no longer exists? You can’t. Better to ignore it until it fades away and disappears. Just as you wouldn’t sit down and try to converse with an apparition, you don’t have to pay attention to messages or images that are grounded in the past and have no basis in current reality. All you need to do is notice them and remind yourself that they’re from another time in your life which has gone by and will never come again. To reinforce that they have nothing to do with who you are now, label these old, tired, transparent imaginings as ghosts and simply shoo them away.