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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 96 - Time to Come Alive: “How Am I Eating?” With Momo Nishimura, Zen Eating Expert

Updated: Jul 9

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Time to Come Alive: “How Am I Eating?” With Momo Nishimura, Zen Eating Expert

When was the last time you tasted your food? The last time that you noticed if it was tart, sweet, or salty, and which part of your body noticed whether it was tart, sweet, or salty? I want to introduce you to this phenomenal and quite intriguing human being I had the pleasure of connecting with probably about a month or so ago. Her name is Momo Nishimura. She and I met because she hosted a Zen Eating Experience on When my goddaughter and I decided to try something new, that's what we chose.


Momo, I have to say that it was probably one of the most fascinating experiences I've had because you took your time and helped explain everything that we were doing. You are so generous with the information you shared about this experience. You were also very patient with us. Being in the West, we’re probably not as mindful about our eating in general as you have grown up to be. I had so much fun, and I wanted to talk more during the session but there were other people so I had to be respectful of that. I'm so happy that you said yes to being a guest on the show. Welcome, Momo.


Thank you very much for inviting me.


This is great. Momo, what else should we know about you?


I am Momo and I'm hosting Zen Eating as Valerie shared. I grew up in Tokyo, but I'm originally from Northern Japan. That's the countryside, 3 to 4 hours from Tokyo. It's very rich in nature and mountain areas. That's where I am originally from and that's related to my experience in the Zen eating workshop. We can talk about it later. Maybe a little more.


There's so much to peel back. The first thing we should explain to people because I've already used the term Zen eating a couple of times. What exactly is it for those who are unfamiliar with that term?


I hope everyone is familiar with mindfulness. This activity or workshop is a little bit similar to mindful eating but based on Zen Buddhism teaching.


What would be different from mindful eating and Zen eating, for example, if you have to give some specifics?


This is something like meditation while eating. That's the basic concept of mindful Zen eating meditation. If you ask me about the difference between mindful eating and Zen eating, I'm not sure if this answer is clear enough, but mindfulness is seeking something beneficial for you. For example, performance or concentration level, or something very beneficial for mainly business sponsors. Zen is the complete opposite that asks you to let everything go and release everything that you have. You are not seeking something beneficial in terms of Zen Buddhism. That's how beneficial Zen Buddhism is, It's ironic.

Not Quite Strangers | Zen Eating
Zen Eating: Mindfulness is seeking something that is beneficial for you. Zen is letting go and releasing everything that you have.

It is ironic. It benefits our performance and our concentration, yet Zen is about not benefiting at all. It's about releasing any attachment to what one gets. It is being present in the experience.


Yes, then you will find a benefit there, after releasing all of your attachments.


You have to release expectations to benefit from it. 


Expectation is the right word for it. Also, Zen eating is something that you can practice in your daily life. That's what I like about it.


The experience was very unique. A little teaser, we might have a little mini experience here, so you all get a taste of what Zen eating is about. It only makes sense, Momo. The experience was only an hour long. It felt like it was much longer but not like, “I'm bored. When is this over?” kind of longer. It was more like we went so deep in such a short period of time that time didn't matter. It almost felt like time fell away.


What I thought was so beautiful about the experience was you had us come to the session with food already prepared. I remember being mindful of finding something that would taste good even though it was not cold or hot or that it could be a room temperature and it would be fine. I made a conscious decision, which I never thought about like this, but I made a conscious decision to bring something that had a little heat and a little spice because I knew that it wouldn't be hot by the time I ate it but that the heat in the spice would make me feel like it was hot.


Even what you asked us to do was, “Oh.” I had a very intentional meal because of those instructions, which I don't typically think about. I have food that has spicy flavors in it often, but this one I made specifically because of your request and what I thought would benefit my experience. There's more, but before we get into it, I'll peel those layers back as we move through our conversation. Tell me more about you. What is it about this style of eating and Zen Buddhism that drew you in?


The two reasons that I have started this experience are, first, I have been practicing Zen Buddhism and mindfulness for nine years. I decided to start sharing my experience with people to help them by saying that being mindful is not difficult. It is something that you can do in your daily life easily. For example, eating. Meditation while eating is so easy and you don't have to take extra time to practice that.


Being mindful is not difficult. It is something that you can do in your daily life easily.

If you do sitting meditation, then you have to take extra time. I am personally practicing meditation as well, but I don't do that every day. I discovered one day that I like doing meditation while eating. I love cooking and food in general. That was the first reason that I have started but I would like to add one more story about that. I shared healthy cooking with people a couple of years ago because my mother had a chronic illness.


It's not a dying illness, but that's so painful and my mother has had that for more than ten years. She got better when she changed her diet. Hot food every day and she quit eating bread or sugar, something sweet. She changed her diet to Japanese’s simplest way like our ancestors used to eat more than 100 years ago.


Can you give us some examples of what she changed? You said that she removed the sugar and it sounds like the starches but what kind of food did she begin to eat?


Like miso soup and rice. No artificial flavors. She quit junk food as well, maybe in a bit less quantity. I saw a hard, dramatic change in her diet when I was in high school when we lived together. As we shared meals regularly, my diet changed as well. That’s how my interest in healthy food started and how I feel food can impact our health. I love healthy foods in general. That's how I started thinking about a healthy body and healthy food. At that time I was focusing on what to eat to be healthy. After a few years, I have realized that knowing what to eat is important but understanding how to eat is more crucial to know what is the best food for you.


You said so many things that are fascinating to me. I feel intuitively, I've always known that to be true. The food that we eat has an impact on our body. I know that I have some chronic aches and pains that are increased when I eat certain foods. I do my best to avoid those foods and the are times when I am a little bit more addicted to those foods sometimes because they are processed foods or something. I'm thinking sweets.


Sometimes too difficult for me to turn down sweets. There are certain foods also that I enjoy. You're right. I've been mindful of seeing how some foods affect my diet. I did an eating program. It wasn't necessarily mindful in the sense you're talking about but we were mindful in certain aspects of the program. For example, the 90-day program that I did was called The Wildfit Mindvalley program.


It was fascinating because they asked us to not change anything about how we eat but to start to notice the emotions that are driving us to eat or how we feel before, during, and after eating. That was one thing and then as we went through the program, we started shifting some of the foods. They would recommend certain seasons, “Eat this type of food now.”


I remember increasing the types of vegetables I ate. There was a point in time when I remember counting the amount of vegetables that I had included in my diet. There were I think 54 different vegetables. Everything from garlic and onions to Chinese cabbage to Daikon. It was all sorts of things and to this day, I continue to eat a variety of vegetables which my parents are shocked by because when I was a child, I hated vegetables. I would never leave the table because I couldn't finish my vegetables and they said, “You cannot leave and watch TV or play until you finish everything on your plate.” I would sit there for hours and say, “I'm going to win this.” It’s such a difference. 


Do you know why you didn't like vegetables?


First of all, I love my mother and my father, of course. I acknowledge her for that but cooking was not an art form in my home. Let's call it that. It was very practical. We ate a lot of the same foods over and over. I feel like the vegetables were usually overcooked or under-seasoned or something. They were not appealing to me and I can tell you the exact moment that my attitude toward vegetables changed.


Two things happened, very important. One, when I started to travel right after I graduated from college. I was posted to families in different parts of the world and different countries. I saw my peers experience this. There was nothing worse than telling a host family, “I don't eat that. I don't like that,” without ever trying it or without tasting it. I could see how much time and energy and how much pride they had in sharing foods from their home or their country that I decided I would try everything because I wanted to honor the people who prepared it. That was the first thing that I noticed in my twenties.


The most recent shift was when I dated a guy from India one time. I remember he cooked for me. He cooked and he made a cabbage dish and a cauliflower dish. There wasn't anything else. There was no fish or meat or chicken or no poultry. Nothing. It was these two dishes. I think maybe rice probably and I remember thinking, “Is this it?” Of course, it was our first, he made a special meal so I didn't want to make him feel bad, but then I tasted the cauliflower and the cabbage dish. It was so delicious. I was like, “I feel very fulfilled just having eaten this.”


I expanded what I cooked and I love cooking, like you. I started to add and find different flavors and spices. I'm finding that my palettes like more spices, but not necessarily spicy. I added a lot of spices to my food. Thai cuisine, Indian, Pakistani cuisine, Bangladeshi, or something Middle Eastern. Latin foods, although Latin foods don't tend to be a lot of vegetables. I started to change my idea about vegetables from those big experiences and ever since then, I've been increasing and increasing.


That's so interesting you changed your diet because you found that you liked it. I like how intuitive you are. It's not something that the nutritionists say you have to take a certain amount of Vitamin D, vitamin C, or something. We cannot always follow someone's teaching but you can follow what you like. I like how intuitive you are.


We cannot always follow someone's teaching but you can follow what you like.

Don't give me all the credit because in your session, in the experience that we had, there were a few moments where I realized that I was not paying as close attention to how I ate it. You said it too. It’s not just what you eat but also how. I'm going to wait until I share the two things that stood out to me because this would be a good time to give people a taste of what we're talking about. After that, I'll share some of the insights that I think might be helpful. Another teaser for people to hold on and wait and see, how about we give them a little taste?


Hopefully, you guys have something to eat. Any snacks, fruit, almonds, nuts, or anything is fine. Grab something to eat and let's begin.


I got to tell you what I brought to eat and the irony is that we've been talking about healthy foods. I don't have healthy food. I have some guacamole which is okay. I have some lentil chips that I'm going to use for the guacamole. I'm ready. For everybody, if you are tuning in to this, go find something. As Momo said, even if it's a snack, something small, I'd like for you all to follow along and experience it. You get a taste of what she does.


It will be fun to join. Let's begin. Relax your body. Open up your body. You can shake your body or sway your body and center yourself. Now take some deep breathing, exhale, full breath out through your nose. Inhale through your nose, widely open. Exhale, and release all the tension that you have in your body.


Now you are relaxed, put your palms together. “Thanks to the food and thanks to the people who helped me to eat.” Bow and coming back. Release your hands. Let's begin. For the first bite, I'd like you to observe the food before start eating. Please start observing the food with your eyes, with your nose. You can move closer and deeply inhale. Imagine the taste by smelling it. Listen to your body. As you smell it you may feel that your mouth is watering now.


Yes, you are. That's the sign from your body that your body is ready for eating. Listen to your body first and now when your body is ready, start eating. Put the food into your mouth but for the first bite, no chewing let the food sit on your tongue without chewing, without moving. Enjoy the flavor of the food that is sitting on your tongue. You may feel a little different from what you're used to doing. Enjoy this strangeness.

Not Quite Strangers | Zen Eating
Zen Eating: Your mouth watering is a sign from your body that your body is ready for eating.

 Relax your body and start moving your tongue. Which part of your tongue catches the sweetness of the food? Which part of your tongue catches the bitterness or sourness of the food? Now start chewing when your body is ready. Slowly, consciously. How are you feeling now with your entire body with the five senses? Open up your five senses again. Listen to your nose, mouth, and tongue. Feel the food passing your throat and swallow the food mindfully.


Take your time. Through this passing your throat down into the stomach. Enjoy the aftertaste. Now you may feel that your mouth is watering again. That's the sign from your body that your body is ready to move to the next bite. Slowly put the food in your mouth and you can start chewing or you can pause a little bit if you'd like to.


Enjoy being in the silence. Listen to your body. Slowly you can start chewing. Relax your body and face. Keep observing the flavor. For bite, I'd like to invite you on a journey of the imagination. Can you imagine where this food is coming from? Where did this come from? Imagine the environment. How long did it take to arrive here as food? How many people help you? Feel the connection and swallow the food while feeling the connection, the circle.


Enjoy the aftertaste. You are connected with the food that you're currently eating. You're connected with the environment, with the farmer, connected with everything. Feel that you are in a beautiful circle. Listen to your body and when your body is ready, move on to the next bite. If you continue, you can continue to enjoy eating in silence but the mini-session is over here. I hope you enjoyed it. Arigato Gozaimasu.


Arigato Gozaimasu. You know what was interesting about that? A few things in this mini experience. When you said to reflect on how or where the food came from to get here, I thought these are both quite processed foods. It made it harder to imagine. To make lentil chips, somebody has to grow lentils. By the time it gets to become chips, so much has to happen to that to harvest it and put it in a can. I felt a little guilty because I didn't know where it came from and what was in it. As you said, you complete the circle. There's a cycle with eating it.


The guacamole is similar because it's in this package. I didn't buy the avocado and made my own. I bought it already packaged. All the different pieces and people that had to have a part in it. It is so interesting, a healthier option completes the experience. When I did this with you a month ago, I created a vegetable dish. I think it was cauliflower and cabbage. Imagine that, but in a different preparation than my ex but it was something that I enjoyed eating. It was only vegetables.


I remember not feeling that because everything came from, “There's a cabbage, here's the cauliflower, here’s the onions.” I had all the ingredients and I made it myself and I had that relationship to the food. I don't think about it, to be honest. I don't typically think about it. Honestly, since our session, I have not thought much about it either, how mindless I eat.


That's good learning from your everyday life. Feeling guilty is good learning as well. That’s interesting. Life is for feeling those emotions and that's fun to feel. That's good up and down.


Life is for feeling those emotions.

Tell me about your food journey. You said your mother changed her diet and therefore your diet changed. What did you start to notice when you started to eat more mindfully? What kind of learnings did you have?


I talked about my grandparents' life before I would like to talk about it here too. My grandparents are living in the very countryside and they own a mountain. My grandfather goes to the mountains every day. He’s 85 or something now and he's a healthy, energetic person. I think he gets the energy from the mountain and nature. That's why he's so energetic. What I respect about their life is they respect nature and they take blessings from nature. They always take wild mountain vegetables from nature.


The point is they are wild and not harvested by someone. I can't explain enough how energetic the wild food is. You can see where that food originally came from. You cannot imagine where the guacamole came from, but you can imagine how it was grown. I loved the rich life in nature and being at my grandfather’s mountain. That’s how I probably started my food journey.


You've learned from the energy of the food. Whether it is harvested or whether it's grown wild, that makes a difference. I'm curious about what you learned about yourself as you were eating some of these foods. What did you notice? You asked me to think about the sensation in my mouth or when it's going down to my stomach. I'm curious about things you notice when you eat like this. 


Basically, I am not following anyone's direction or anyone's method. All those triggers that I gave you were told by my body. One day, I discovered that, “My mouth start watering after a few moments after the first bite.” When I don't like that food, then my mouth doesn't water much. All of those things are told by my body. I am always asking my body. Your body is your teacher so my body is my teacher. That's how I discovered it. It's more important how to listen to your body based on Zen Buddhism. When you are in silence and a peaceful state, then you can listen to your body. If yourself is so noisy, then you cannot listen to the subtle whisper from your body.

Not Quite Strangers | Zen Eating
Zen Eating: When you are in silence and in a peaceful state, then you can listen to your body.

I love what you said. What's helpful to me now is that maybe 3 or 4 years ago I would not have noticed. I do practice meditation every day and I would say 90% of the time. Generally, I aim for 30 minutes, sometimes longer, depending on the amount of time I have. Two things you said that I think were important. One is that I have to take time to meditate, I schedule time. You're right that I created an additional activity to do that.


Sometimes you have to hurry to make extra time to meditate. You make yourself busier. I do that too.


“I eat fast to meditate longer.” There are so many things. I think it's interesting, but you're right about being quiet and peaceful allows us to hear. I noticed that when we did our session the first time I sat on my dining room table which happens to be a high table. It's one of the pub styles, they call gathering tables with high chairs and a high table.


I've had it for ten years and I love my table. It is beautiful a table to me. While we were having this experience, I realized that I was not able to get comfortable. I was listening to your prompts and I was following directions, but there were moments when I was like trying to find a good place to put my feet against the rail of the chair or it was too far from the floor.


I had this moment when I realized part of the problem is maybe not creating enough space and time to eat because it's not comfortable to sit here. I'm not comfortable that my table is long enough to eat mindfully, so I blame it on my table. It's my table's fault that I'm not able to sit. It was fascinating. You said another thing that intrigued me and now starts to salivate when it's ready to eat. Until you told me that, the first experience I had, I did notice that prompt from my body that said, “Put in the first bite.” I did notice that this time, my mouth did not salivate as much as the first time. There we go. Guilt, not salivation. Sorry, lentil chips.


For example, to dip it in guacamole, subconsciously, we are uncomfortable but without feeling that uncomfortableness, we eat it. This is a good reminder for us to pause.


There are two things that you shared with me that I thought would be pretty interesting. You've traveled quite a bit yourself. Where have you traveled to?


More than 50 countries, but I have lived in India for 2 years and I have lived in Egypt for 3 years when I was a child.


I know I've traveled to 31 countries right now. I'm working on it but tell us how has the travel you've done and the places you lived informed what you eat and how you eat?


I lived in India for 2 years when I was 24 to 26 years old or something. I realized how my taste is used to Japanese food which has a very subtle flavor compared to Indian spices that has a strong powerful flavor. I came to know that my body can't digest those strong tastes. I had a lot of stomachaches not only because of the hygiene problem but also the spicyness and oily food.


What happened? What did you do?


I tried to find better food in India. There is porridge in Indian food as well so I always ordered porridge when I had to.


For two years, Momo?


Yeah. That was an amazing eye-opening experience.


I can imagine. What about when you've traveled to other places and other countries, how does that inform what you eat and how you eat?


I came to know how complex Japanese flavors are, for example, maybe you know about the Umami flavor. That was discovered in Japan because Umami is a Japanese term. When I was traveling all over the world, I sometimes felt very bored with the food and less variety. Maybe that's because I'm so familiar only with Japanese food.


You're limited in what you can eat. That's fascinating. To your point, the more mindful we are of what we eat and the more we're paying attention, we can see how foods impact our bodies. It sounds like you made a choice. If somebody put in front of you food that your body knew that it wouldn’t do well, how did you react? What would you say?


I tried. I realized that after eating some sort of dairy food like yogurt or cheese, then those yogurts or something coat my tongue. I can't taste well after eating those dairies. That’s what I realized in India. Japanese are originally vegetarian so we don’t eat yogurt so much. My body doesn’t digest those foods well. That coated my tongue and I cannot taste anything subtle after eating those foods. That was good teaching.


I have one last experience that I thought would be interesting to discuss. I spent some time in Tokyo a few years ago. There are two meals that I remember very distinctly. One was when I went to Hiroshima. I can't remember what it's called. It was done on a grill, with vegetables, and maybe rice or potatoes. I can't remember exactly. It's very typical for that particular area but I remember the restaurant I went to was very well known for this particular dish.


The gentleman who was cooking it was so excited. I think because I was an American and then Black. There were very few people who looked like me. They were so enthusiastic and so excited and everybody was watching me eat it. They want to watch it to make sure I enjoyed it, “How do you like this?” In whatever English and a little Japanese, I knew we communicated something. That was one where I felt so cared for.


In my enjoyment of some food. It was a local dish. It wasn't a fancy meal, but it was that was made with such joy and such care. It's so special. I was there by myself so it was interesting to observe how excited they were to make sure I was taken care of. That was my first experience and then the second one that stood out to me was when I had a meal at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo. Good hotel. That was the hotel I was staying in, so shout out to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo team. They were so nice.


It was so special because I ate at the Teppanyaki. I was there by myself and so I sat in front of the chef as he was preparing. First of all, the grill was pristine. I thought I was the first one there because it was so clean and at every step, I was so enthralled with how meticulous and how precise and simple the food was. It was the most expensive meal I've eaten and it was the most delicious in its simplicity.


It was several courses, but I remember it being prepared with such care and such attention to detail and how it was served. I felt compelled to also eat it with the same intention. As simple as it was it wasn't large portions. They were very small portions. I remember feeling, “I got to soak up every moment.” I want to bring that up because it seems to me that how a meal is prepared also influences how we consume the meal. I'm curious about your thoughts on that. What are your reflections on how food is prepared and how that influences the eating of it?


That's a great intention. That's why I shared healthy cooking with people and that has a connection with eating. This is what I like about symbolism as well. Zen teaches us not to pay attention to the value of an ingredient no matter how expensive, cheap, or rare it is. It can be anything like lentils or cabbage. It can be like Foi gras or caviar. They have the same value. You can't validate how rare it is or how expensive it is.


That's an interesting distinction because although in my experience of paying for a meal, I thought, “This is the ticket is a lot higher.” You know, wagyu beef and I don't even know something in papio like it was very sophisticated courses but I spent probably the same amount of time I would have spent in any other type of restaurant, even if it weren't that level. My body reacts to the food that I put in it and it doesn't know, “You're eating expensive food right now.” It doesn't distinguish between that. That's fascinating to think that food has its own value. It’s what our body decides to do with it.


That's how you listen to yourself not someone else. Your inner self is deciding how you feel not your outside responses.

Not Quite Strangers | Zen Eating
Zen Eating: You decide how you feel, not outside.

You said something before we started about laughter. I want you to say that because that was so brilliant.


When we are talking about the connection between body and mind, what I was telling you is that you're laughing not because you're happy. You become happier when you laugh.


That's so true. I think you said the same thing about food. Our inner experience is what drives our emotions, not the external. It's not that we see something or that we're happy. There are plenty of ways. Some people are happy and they cry. Some people are happy and they're yelling. You're right, laughter produces more chemicals and contributes to happiness but that's an inside job. Momo, I could talk to you all day about this. You are captivating. This experience and what you've shared. I would love for people to know how they can connect with you. Can you share with us if there's any particular workshop that you're doing or any of the work that you can tell us?


Thank you very much. I am hosting a small group session on Airbnb like the one that you have attended. I hope you will share the links in the description box. Also, you can listen to my audio recording on the Insight Timer. That's the meditation application. You can type “Momo eating.” You find me on Insight Timer and you'll be able to listen to the audio recording of the longer version of today’s session.


Recently, I have taken more sessions from corporate. If you have teammates, then I'm very happy to welcome you to my session, corporate conference, and seminars. This is great for lunchtime. If you’re organizing a web seminar or web conference this will be amazing. Your participant experience will be amazing if you give them a chance to experience it at lunchtime. I finished giving a session for 200 people at the Mindfulness Conference. That was an amazing experience for me and many people enjoyed it. I hope I can help in that way too. All my social media, I have Facebook and Instagram and everything.


I will put all the links. Do you also have a YouTube or do you have a podcast? 


Yes, I have podcasts too.


I know and I noticed you did not mention your podcast.


Last but not least, I do have a podcast, Momo ZenEating 


I am so happy. Arigato Gusaimasu.


I enjoyed it so much.


The biggest takeaway for me is letting my body tell me more about what it means as opposed to my thoughts, my emotions, or my ideas. I think having to pay more attention and honoring my body more and more is important. I'm getting better at it every year of my life. The more wisdom I gather, the more I listen. My body feels faster now too. Thank you for giving us such great tools. The other thing I'm so taken with your approach is that it provides so much grace. There's no judgment about, “That's good. Don't do this.”


I think there's so much shame and so much judgment sometimes around the foods or don't eat this or how much or how little. I appreciate it even when I told you I felt guilty and you're like, “That's such a good learning.” That's so generous of you, Momo. I'm so happy that you're able to share your message with us.


Thank you. That one might be the essence of what I would like to share. No judgment.


Thank you so much for being here and let's say goodbye to our friends. Thank you so much for joining us. You should tell us in Japanese a nice little goodbye or something so that people feel, “You're all the way from Tokyo.” They want to feel your heart in your language.


Thank you Arigato Gozaimasu, mata aimashō. I say thank you and see you again.


 Important Links

Thich Nhat Hanh: “In this food, I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.”


How do we develop such deep intimacy with our bodies that we know when the body is ready to eat? According to Momo Nishimura, an expert in Zen eating, she notices when the body salivates as the signal that it’s ready. She shares her experiences from childhood, international travel, and the impact on her own eating habits.



  • Practicing the art of mindfulness and Zen eating

  • Tapping into the rich life and energy from nature and into your food

  • Eating habits from around the world


[Book Momo] - Online session for Individuals / corporates / conference or web seminar


Follow Momo on social media:

LinkedIn: Momo Zen Eating

Instagram: @zeneatingmomo 

Facebook: Momo.ZenEating

YouTube: Zen Eating


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