We Tried Gisele's Diet For Anxiety. Here's What Happened
When Gisele Bündchen spoke so candidly recently about her struggles with severe anxiety, people around the country breathed a collective sigh of empathy—and relief. There's something deeply reassuring about knowing your anxiety, a largely isolated and isolating experience, is actually shared. That the person sharing it is incredibly successful and beautiful, the type of person that the phrase "having it all" was coined for, makes it all the more comforting.
It was this reaction that was Gisele's catalyst for her new book, Lessons. "I know when people share with me the stories of what they've gone through in their lives, it's been helpful to me," she shared on the mindbodygreen podcast. "The intention of the book is to have some of the challenges I've been through be helpful to other people going through similar experiences."
In the book, she opens up about the diet she follows to help manage her anxiety, which she adopted after a fleeting thought of jumping from her apartment's balcony. It was a fairly drastic shift for the supermodel, who was, at the time, smoking cigarettes and subsisting on fast food. "When the thought of jumping from the ninth floor crosses your mind, you know you're in trouble," she told mbg founder Jason Wachob on the podcast. "So with something that extreme, you're willing to make extreme changes on the other side."
Like Gisele, I'm familiar with the extreme discomfort that comes with anxiety. From a childhood with vague neurotic tendencies to a period in my 20s when, while living in London, I had a bout of severe agoraphobia and didn't leave my house (and barely my bed) for over a month. My anxiety is far more under control now, and my life and diet are close to what you'd expect from a health food editor and healthy cookbook author, but both are far from perfect. Recently, I'd let stress steer me in the direction of a few too many late night cookies and cocktails. I'd stopped packing my lunch and forgone vegetables for more comforting carb-laden fare. Slowly, the sidelined tightness in my chest began to move more to the fore; nausea hung over my day like a queasy companion. When Lessons landed on my desk, it felt like a nudge at just the right time. I decided to try Gisele's diet for two weeks and see what happened.
There's a whole chapter in the book about her diet that offers a surprisingly candid amount of detail. By and large, she eats an organic, local, whole foods, plant-based diet that's filled with raw or steamed vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. She's tried to be vegetarian twice and twice been subsequently diagnosed with iron deficiency; now, she consumes sustainably sourced meat or seafood a few times a month.
I decided to adopt her entire morning routine (why not go all the way, right?). Like Gisele, I started my day by oil pulling and meditating (the former of which I've dabbled with on and off over the years; the latter of which I do without fail for 20 minutes every single day). The first thing Gisele consumes daily is a glass of warm lemon water, which she follows with a green juice made of "celery, cucumbers, half a red or green apple, turmeric, ginger, lemon juice, and occasionally kale or beets."
I don't own a juicer, so I blended mine (if you don't have a Vitamix, I don't recommend doing this—even with my Vitamix, I had to chop the celery fairly finely to get it to blend!). I typically start every day with a smoothie, although I love Gisele's inclusion of anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger (inflammation and anxiety are closely linked). My one problem? I pack my smoothies with healthy fats and proteins so they act as more of a meal. While this one was bright and zesty, a wonderful morning pick-me-up, it left me shaky with crashing blood sugar in the middle of my 10 a.m. meeting. The next day, I added avocado, which helped a bit, and the day after that, I blended in some chia seeds, hulled hemp hearts, and flaxseeds (the base of the heartier smoothie Gisele drinks before workouts) for protein. The result was much thicker and satisfying enough to be a breakfast I was excited about drinking for the remaining week and a half.
Gisele's lunch "typically consists of a salad, with seed crackers and avocado, or a bowl of soup containing chickpeas and many different vegetables." I made a big batch of soup on Sunday, using sautéed onions and veggie stock as an umami flavor base, then tossed in a can of chickpeas and whatever veggies I had in my fridge. The result was satisfying, and warming it up on the stove at my office became a soothing ritual, a little break of nourishment and comfort in my day that replaced my frantic charge around the neighborhood, in search of a quick lunch to purchase.
Gisele rarely eats dairy, which was easy for me—I've long avoided cow's milk and eat pastured cheese only occasionally, which, luckily, is Gisele-approved. "I think it's difficult to deprive yourself of something you love," she writes, "and I happen to love cheese. I just eat it sparingly."
Gisele is also a member of a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, which means, essentially, buying shares in a farm, a practice that helps farmers and allows city-dwellers to have seasonal, farm-fresh food delivered to them weekly. I've been thinking about joining a CSA for years and finally took the plunge, choosing one called Local Roots that works with small farms around New York City. When I picked up my haul at the designated spot a few blocks from my apartment, I was glad I did—the beautiful fall produce inspired me to cook far more than anything I've seen at the grocery store. "The truth is that locally grown produce just tastes better, because it's fresher," Gisele writes, and I agree—because it's so easy to access all food at all times of the year, we forget how delicious eating with the seasons can be. I used the squashes and turnips from my haul to create a stir-fry for dinner, which I served with a salad featuring the gorgeous salad greens that had come with my pickup.
Gisele's favorite snack is hummus, so I made a batch with one of my CSA butternut squashes. For the past few weeks, I'd been reaching for some cookies or chocolate, which I always had at my desk (advantage/disadvantage of being a food editor). The hummus, though, which I served, like Gisele, with cutup vegetables, kept my blood sugar balanced throughout the afternoon, giving me sustainable energy to finish my workday. This is especially important for people who suffer from anxiety—according to mbg Collective member and holistic psychiatrist Ellen Vora, M.D., "One very common and preventable cause of stress response is low blood sugar." She recommends "cutting out (or down on) sugar and refined carbohydrates, eating plenty of healthy fats and protein, and stick to safe starches like sweet potatoes and plantains"—fairly similar to the Gisele-inspired one I was following.
Luckily, Gisele and I happen to share a sweet tooth (I know, we're basically the same person), and she doesn't consider dessert off-limits. One Saturday afternoon, when I was craving cookies, I whipped up her favorite dessert—a blend of avocado, banana, and raw cacao. I added some pepitas on top for crunch and mixed in cinnamon and cayenne to mask the avocado and create more of a Mexican hot chocolate vibe. The result? A rich chocolate mousse that quelled my craving but (I'm sensing a theme here) kept my blood sugar stable. It also took a total of two minutes to make—far faster than any less healthy dessert.
At the end of the two weeks, I felt noticeably less anxious—but, perhaps more importantly, I felt more connected to my body and to the way the food I was consuming made me feel. Joining the CSA helped me get excited about cooking again; thinking in terms of seasonality and packing my diet with plants made me feel in touch with nature in a way that's uncommon to my Brooklyn life.
And that's Gisele's ultimate point. "I don't want to be in a box," she said on the mbg podcast. "Life is too beautiful, and I want to experience it all. But I notice how I feel—when I eat plants, I feel energized versus eating something that takes away my energy. I want to support my body, so it can support me."
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.