79 – Nourishing Mind and Body: Exploring Zen Eating with Momoe (Part 1)

Do you have a healthy relationship with food?

Many of us struggle with health issues due to the food we eat. This may result from not paying enough attention to what we put into our bodies. That's why it's crucial to take our eating habits seriously, as they can significantly impact our overall well-being.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Momoe about the significance of practising mindfulness in our dietary choices, exploring the principles of Zen eating as a pathway to enhanced well-being.

Zen Buddhism embodies joy and unity

“It's interesting that you mentioned ‘this house is Zen.’ Yes, I often hear those perspectives, which I don't have any strong opinion on. But I may have a different perspective, a different understanding from those teachings that you find in Zen temples or in Zen books. I am a big fan of Zen because of two reasons: first is joy and the second is oneness. So, I define Zen Buddhism as joy and oneness.” - Momoe

Podcast Highlights



Momoe is the author of Zen Eating: A Japanese Mindfulness Practice for Well-Being & True Fulfillment (Zen Eating: Sekai ga Mitometa Shiawase na Tabekata*Kasama Shoin, 2023) that introduces an accessible new meditation-based practice for supporting the well-being of busy people around the world.

Educated in Japan, Egypt, and India, Momoe has delivered ZenEating® workshops to thousands of participants in over 30 countries globally and her clients include companies such as Google, McKinsey, Accenture, Panasonic, Mitsui, Fujitsu, Duskin, and Salesforce as well as many universities.

Momoe conducts original research into comparative happiness, Zen, Japanese culture, food-related traditions, and well-being. Her mission is to help individuals and organisations build a profoundly healthy relationship with food that cultivates a sense of gratitude for the natural world for world peace.


Becoming a Zen eating guide

Momoe transitioned from a busy urban lifestyle to a more meaningful and health-focused approach, influenced by her upbringing in Japan and her mother’s experience overcoming illness through dietary changes. She worked in the wellness industry at one of Japan’s luxury resort hotels but experienced burnout due to neglecting her health. This led her to move to India and explore traditional Indian medicine and nutrition, realising the profound connection between diet and well-being.

She eventually integrated her learnings with meditation techniques she had practised since a young age, forming a holistic approach to mindful eating. Now, she shares her insights and practices with others, emphasising the importance of both what we eat and how we approach eating for overall health and well-being.

Exploring Zen

Momoe characterises Zen Buddhism as the epitome of joy and unity. Joy, for her, represents fulfilment and satisfaction, fostered by Zen's teachings on cherishing the present moment. Conversely, happiness arises from feeling connected and unified. Notably, in Japanese, the characters for "self" and "nature" coincide, implying our intrinsic unity with the natural world. Momoe asserts that embracing our interconnectedness with nature can infuse our lives with profound joy.

“We feel happiness by being connected or experiencing a sense of oneness. So if you bring back this connection with nature–that you’re part of nature–this sense of oneness will bring your ultimate bliss in life.” - Momoe 

Sense of Oneness

Zen eating 

Zen eating is a mindful practice inspired by Japanese Zen Buddhism that aims to make you feel connected with the planet. It's about more than just being aware of eating—it's about feeling like you're part of something bigger. When you think about where your food comes from, like the soil, sun, and water, you realise it's connected to generations before you.

This helps you understand how everything is linked together. When you embrace this idea, you start to feel like everything is connected in both space and time, like a big cycle. To get into Zen eating, try awakening your senses by smelling, touching, and paying attention to how your body feels. This helps you reconnect with your body and the world around you.

Being playful while eating

Playfulness holds significant value for Zen practitioners and individuals alike, counteracting the tendency to approach things too seriously. Despite personal struggles with maintaining habits like meditation, Momoe found solace in incorporating mindfulness into eating, viewing it as a daily ritual. She adopted a playful attitude, approaching each meal with fresh eyes and curiosity.

For instance, even something as simple as drinking hot water became an opportunity to marvel at the interconnectedness of nature and the body's intricate processes. Embracing playfulness over rigid accuracy allowed for a deeper appreciation of the present moment and the wonders of everyday experiences.

Benefits of Zen eating

There are various benefits of practising Zen eating, such as:

  • Physical benefit

  • People overcome their addiction to sugar

  • Appropriate amount of eating

  • Mental benefit

  • Calmness by eating slowly

  • Lifeforce by activating senses

  • Connection with nature and Earth which makes people feel supported

“We live in embodied experience. We have a body and we experience life through our body, our five senses, but we also feel emotionally, we think logically–it's all happening together. Our relationship with food and how we eat seems like a really good solution to living with all of that.” - Nicholas Kemp

Relationship with Food

Practising Zen eating

There are three steps to enhance your Zen eating practice. Firstly, eliminate distractions like mobile phones during meals. Secondly, cultivate gratitude for your food, taking moments for deep breathing before and after eating. Lastly, incorporate the habit of smelling your food before consumption, as it can heighten your sensory experience.

“Before and after a meal, if you do it properly, express your appreciation for the food with feeling, it does make a difference. And it increases your well-being because you’re being grateful for what you’re receiving.” - Nicholas Kemp

Food Appreciation

Overcoming fast lifestyles through Zen eating

Today, people have developed bad eating habits, mostly due to stress and anxiety. One way to address this is through Zen eating. It is essential to first acknowledge the root cause of binge eating, which is often stress, and to learn to accept it rather than blaming yourself.

Then, remember to pause and listen to your body – assess what it needs at the moment, so you can connect with your internal wisdom, guiding you to where you need to be. Lastly, learn to be playful and curious, even in challenging moments, to foster a deeper connection with yourself and the surrounding environment.

Stay tuned for the second part of this podcast, as Nick and Momoe delve deeper into Zen eating.