JB Lacroix / WireImage 1 / 4
JB Lacroix / WireImage 1 / 4

Vicki Gunvalson is returning to The Real Housewives of Orange County with some weight off her shoulders -- and her midsection!

The source of the show's drama last season, Vicki's now ex-boyfriend, Brooks Ayers, is no longer around -- and neither is the extra weight Vicki put on during their relationship.

"I lost 22 pounds," Vicki reveals to ET. We caught up with the star at her Coto de Caza, California, estate ahead of the show's new season premiere.

"I changed a lot of things," Vicki shares. "You know, when life give you changes, change everything."

The insurance entrepreneur will debut a new haircut, a new kitchen and her new figure this year on the show.

"It was over a three-month period," the star reveals. "I cut out all alcohol … [I was down to] 500 calories a day. No carbs, so I just did lettuce and grapefruit in the morning… 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!"

Vicki says her breakup from Brooks motivated her to focus on herself.

"You know what, I was at such a depressed state," Vicki explains. "I'm 54 now, and your metabolism changes. I put on, like, 10 pounds from my 40s to my 50s, and I never felt strong. I don't want to be a bodybuilder. 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?"

The Housewives veteran is looking better than ever, seems happier than ever and isn't quite single. She's got a new man in her life, politician Steve Lodge.

"I'm protecting my heart, 'cause my heart really got stomped on and it got damaged," Vicki says of the new relationship. "The new man has never watched The Real Housewives of Orange County. How crazy is that? So, he likes me for me! And not some thought of being on TV or such, which is very, very clean to me. It's very organic … he's courting me. So I'll take it, right?"

The reality star says Steve won't be on the show much, but he will make an appearance or two toward the end of the season. The first episode premieres Monday night at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

Vicki and Steve enjoyed a date night at the RHOC premiere party last Thursday in Los Angeles. Watch the video below to hear Vicki gush more over her guy.