Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic Tess Holliday
The model, 36, first shared in May that she has anorexia, a diagnosis she was as surprised to receive as her followers were to hear, Holliday said.
"I didn't know that's what it was until last year — but for over 10 years, I have restricted food. That means I don't eat — or when I do eat, it's very little. Or sometimes it's one large meal a day," she said in an essay for Today. "My dietician, Anna Sweeney, first brought it to my attention. She told me, 'I'm not licensed to diagnose you, but if I could, I would diagnose you with anorexia nervosa.' "
"When she said anorexia, I laughed. I thought, 'Do you see how fat I am? There's no way that word could ever be attached to someone my size.' "
But anorexia can affect all sizes, Chelsea Kronengold, Associate Director of Communications at the National Eating Disorders Association, previously told PEOPLE, and that "anorexia doesn't have one look."
I’m anorexic & in recovery. I’m not ashamed to say it out loud anymore. I’m the result of a culture that celebrates thinness & equates that to worth, but I get to write my own narrative now. I’m finally able to care for a body that I’ve punished my entire life & I am finally free
— Tess H🍒lliday (@Tess_Holliday) May 1, 2021
Holliday said that she went to a psychologist, who confirmed her diagnosis. In the months since, she has been working on her eating habits, but is struggling.
"I feel grateful that I'm tough enough to talk about this, but I've since taken a lot of steps backwards in my recovery," she wrote for Today. "I've regressed. I haven't eaten today. It's 11 o'clock and I've had two sips of coffee, and I feel sick. This has been extremely hard on my mental and physical health."
Part of the problem, Holliday said, is in accepting her diagnosis.
"I still struggle with wrapping my head around, 'How can I be in a fat body and be starving?' Then I realized that bodies of all sizes and shapes starve," she said.
"Recovery for me is messy. It's lonely. It's hard to deal with something for which there isn't enough support. Having a diagnosis has been liberating and it has made me feel less alone, but the confused look on people's faces when I say anorexia or the stares I get if it comes up in conversation — that's hard."
Holliday said she's going to therapy, which has helped, as has being around people who know her diagnosis and gently encourage her to eat. The mom of two is also glad she publicly shared that she is anorexic — even though she got messages from people accusing her of "lying" or "saying this to get attention" — because it helps people understand that not everyone with anorexia is thin.
"For folks who claim they actually care about fat bodies and plus-size people and want to 'help' us, the way you can help us is by supporting our mental health, and by understanding that there are so many people struggling with what I'm struggling with, but they don't know it, and they can't name it, and they can't get a diagnosis, because our system has never been set up to support folks in larger bodies," she said.
And for those who are also dealing with anorexia or an eating disorder in a plus-size body — many of whom have reached out to Holliday since she shared her diagnosis, she said — finding support is a good first step.
"One of the bright spots that has come from COVID-19 has been increased access to mental health professionals online," she said. "I found someone to talk to through just Googling someone in my area. I literally would not have been able to do any of this if I didn't have that help."
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.