The singer tells PEOPLE she's in the "best shape of her life" after dropping 17 lbs.

Credit: Kenneth Cossin

Deborah Gibson has a secret weapon in her battle to stay fit: her boyfriend.

For a year and a half, Gibson has been dating Rutledge Taylor, a medical doctor specializing in preventative medicine. To help Gibson keep in shape for her busy schedule, he developed a strict diet and exercise program. “I won’t say it was easy,” Gibson tells PEOPLE, “but it was really effective. He really came up with something that worked for me.”

“I thought I had just 5 lbs. to lose,” she continues, “But as it went on, I realized that I needed to drop a few more.”

The final tally: 17 lbs. “It really gives me a lot more energy to be fit,” she says, “and it’s also empowering. I’ll be 39 soon, and I’m in the best shape of my life.”

“And Gibson isn’t afraid to show off her new body. Last week, she appeared in a halter top and skinny jeans at the Fatone Family Foundation charity event to raise money for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. After several fans commented about her toned body, Gibson told PEOPLE, “It is really gratifying to have people notice, especially younger women. If I can do this, anyone can.”

But the biggest fan is clearly Taylor, who spent the evening making out with Gibson when she wasn’t performing onstage with Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Alfonso Ribeiro.

What’s next for Gibson? After wrapping up the second season of her Deborah Gibson’s Electric Youth summer camp, she is working on her comeback album and in negotiations for a reality show. “Everything’s going really well,” she says. “I’m really happy.”