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June 22, 2016 12:50 PM

After Vicki Gunvalson split from boyfriend Brooks Ayers, she decided to take some time to focus on herself.

The Real Housewives of Orange County star says that she lost 22 lbs. in three months by restricting her meals to just 500 calories a day.

“You know what, I was at such a depressed state,” Gunvalson tells ET. “I’m 54 now, and your metabolism changes. I put on, like, 10 lbs. from my 40s to my 50s, and I never felt strong.”

Vicki Gunvalson in May 2015, left, and in June 2016, right
Cindy Ord/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty; Matthew Eisman/Getty

While weight loss experts don’t recommend such a restrictive diet – they advise women to eat at least 1,200 calories per day, and men at least 1,800 calories – Gunvalson says she wanted to drop pounds by changing her eating habits rather than her exercise routine.

“I don’t want to be a bodybuilder,” she explains. “I don’t want to do all that stuff, but I wanted to feel like, OK, I’m gonna be single now. I gotta look my best, right?”

So she mostly ate raw foods and skipped lunch (which is also not advised by nutritionists).

“I cut out all alcohol. 500 calories a day,” Gunvalson explains. “And no carbs, so I just did lettuce and grapefruit in the morning. Some celery, carrots. Whatever it could be, just very raw. And then nothing really for lunch. I would just do water, lemon water. Hot lemon water. And then at night, I would just have salad and protein, and it worked!”

Gunvalson revamped her life after her controversial split from Ayers.

“I changed a lot of things,” she says. “When life gives you changes, you change everything. So I did.”

RELATED VIDEO: VIDEO: Does Heather Dubrow Think Vicki Gunvalson’s ‘RHOC’ Friendships Can Be Saved?

Now in a new relationship with Steve Chavez, Gunvalson says she’s in a good place.

“I’m happy,” she told PEOPLE at the RHOC premiere party. “It’s been almost a year since Brooks and I broke up, and a lot can happen in a year. I’m trying to mend my heart. I got my heart broken, but it was in God’s timing, you know. I just believe that what is to be is to be, and it wasn’t meant to be, so I’m at this new place and I’m happy. I’m really fortunate to have good people in my life right now. Really good people.”

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