November 08, 2018 03:46 PM

Bella Hadid‘s feeling like her healthiest and strongest self as she prepares to hit the runway at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

The 22-year-old supermodel, who was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in early 2012, tells PEOPLE exclusively backstage at the VSFS in New York City that she’s in a better place mentally and physically than she was when she walked the lingerie show in Shanghai and Paris the past two years.

“You have to have such a great mental state when you’re going into this,” Hadid tells us. “I’ve been really sick for the past few years, and it was really hard for me to fully experience the whole show and have fun with it and be excited. This year I really just feel like I am myself again and happy and healthy in all aspects of my life.”

She adds, “I am just really happy. Your mental state is honestly the biggest part about the whole process and the body kind of comes with being excited to work out.”

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To prepare, the model says she’s been “working out a ton” and maintains a healthy diet, but doesn’t stop herself from enjoying the foods she loves.

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“I’m not keeping myself from anything. I’m still eating things that I want to eat, but you know, not pizza everyday!”

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Hadid will be rejoined by sister Gigi Hadid at tonight’s show, after she dropped out of the 2017 Shanghai show at the last minute. And Hadid says it is so special to have her older sister by her side.

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“It is just insane. Even part of the show we’re standing close to each other for the finale and it is just exciting to be able to hold her hand,” Hadid says. “If I feel anything I can just look at her and we can make a joke and laugh. That is just what I am most excited about.”

Even though 2018 marks Hadid’s third time down the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show runway, the star says her nerves are just the same. “It is so funny because yesterday I was so fine. Then I woke up this morning with all of the butterflies. I thought I was going to be the lucky one that didn’t have the butterflies, but it still comes to you,” Hadid tells us. 

Just days before the show, Hadid clapped back at critics and defended her body shape when many accused her of looking too thin in photos she shared from her Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show fitting. Many commenters found her lingerie-clad photos “disturbing.”

“Skin and bone. That second page is quite frankly disturbing,” one commenter wrote. “I have nothing against being slim but this is unhealthy on so many levels. Shame on @victoriassecret for encouraging and promoting this totally unrealistic image. We must put an end to the concept of looks = value.”

Hadid didn’t reply to commenters directly, but she altered her original caption of the photo with a reaction to the backlash.

@victoriassecret fittings today💛i can’t wait for you to see all of the beautiful outfits …i’m so grateful to be a part of the show again, feeling happier and healthier than ever🖤 (all body types are different and react differently to a great workout routine and a healthy diet❤️💪🏼🌟)”

The 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion show will air Dec. 2 at 10 p.m. on ABC. 

— with reporting by Brittany Talarico

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