Credit: John Huba

Lookin' good, Lauren!

After years of yo-yo dieting, Lauren Manzo's battle of the bulge became a major plot point on the current season of Real Housewives of New Jersey -- and she suffered cruel comments at the hands of anonymous Twitter followers.

"I hated myself," the 24-year-old, 5-foot-3 owner of makeup store Cafface tells Us Weekly exclusively. "I was depressed." At her heaviest, she weighed 185 pounds.

So, last September, Manzo finally followed the advice of concerned parents Caroline and Albert and underwent lap band surgery -- in which a silicone band is placed around the top part of the stomach to control food consumption. (Her dad Albert had the surgery back in 2008).

Losing 20 pounds over the next seven months, Manzo had the band loosened in May -- and dropped another 10 by following a strict protein-and-vegetable diet and working out six days a week. The Bravo star (who's been dating Vita Scalia for three years) hopes to lose 35 more pounds.

Showing off her incredible new shape to Us, Manzo says she feels "amazing. Getting the lap band was the best thing I've done in my life."

She admits to Us that she initially kept the lap band surgery secret. "So many fans related to my struggle," she says. "I didn't want to feel like I was letting them down."

She cautions of the device: "It's not a miracle button that lets you eat whatever you want . . . I wanted to try to lose weight on my own for a while."

And, indeed, although Manzo avoids salt, sugar, carbs and fat with her new diet regime -- and endures intense sessions with trainer Guy Del Corso -- she still loves to eat.

"I like food," she explains. "I can't drink liquid egg whites for the rest of my life. So I've learned a lot of great ways to cook now . . . I have great willpower."

Her ultimate goal? "Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I'll be in a bikini. I've never worn a bikini in my life!"