Fast Fix

updated 04/05/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 01:00AM

Robin Quivers doesn't mind when people comment on her 70-lb. weight loss. Just don't ask her if she's had "that operation"—i.e., gastric bypass surgery. "That's the most insulting thing," says Quivers, the long-running sidekick to shock jock Howard Stern. In fact, "I beg people not to have an operation!" she says. "They're never going to enjoy eating again."

Yet if surgery seems extreme, Quivers's own weight-loss method seems nearly as drastic. The 51-year-old radio personality credits the controversial Master Cleanser fast—which can involve weeks of ingesting nothing except a lemon-juice and cayenne-pepper elixir—for her newly slim 145-lb. frame. But more importantly, she says the regimen is responsible for erasing the joint pain and fatigue that had plagued her for more than a decade. "I've never felt this good about my body before," declares Quivers, who likens her extreme dieting—she has fasted for 21 consecutive days on three occasions—to "a spiritual journey." Says Quivers: "It's just a completely different way to be."

The change has been evident to those who know her. "She's a whole different person," says Howard Stern producer Gary Dell'Abate. "I've been with her 20 years, and I've never seen her this happy and confident."

Still, Quivers acknowledges that her unorthodox plan has its critics. Created by naturopath Stanley Burroughs, the Master Cleanser regime calls for fasting as a way of ridding the body of toxins. (Dr. Sam Klein, president of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, disputes this claim and notes that, as with any extended fast, there is a risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance: "I would not recommend her approach.") In lieu of food, followers guzzle a concoction of fresh lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. "But this wasn't about weight loss," says Quivers, who traces her health problems to a steroid-based medication that she took in 1989 to regulate her menstrual cycle. "I was really trying to regain my health, and that's what it did."

It took a rock-bottom moment before Quivers would make a major change: In September 2002, near her peak weight of 218 lbs. and in despair about the way she looked and felt, she grudgingly attended a friend's wedding. When she tried to make an early exit, "Rebecca Romijn-Stamos grabbed me and said, 'No! You've got to dance with us!'" recalls Quivers. "I thought I was going to burst into tears. I'd never felt so horrible about my physical condition in my entire life."

One month later Quivers came across her solution when magician David Blaine was a guest on Stern's show and raved about the Master Cleanser. Having tried dozens of diets, Quivers decided to go for it. Downing her first glass of "lemonade," she says, "I was like, 'It doesn't taste so bad!'" Still, "I didn't expect to be able to go 24 hours without food."

But she did just that, and 24 hours stretched into 21 days. With each day, she says, "I was a little less stiff. I was sleeping better." All the while, she kept the fasting a secret from everyone but her longtime boyfriend, known to her fans as Mr. X. ("He's shy.")

Having since completed three such fasts, Quivers says she has a renewed appreciation for food: "I was eating a salad for the first time and going, 'Wow! This tastes like ice cream!'" Today she drinks the lemon potion throughout the day, eating a dinner of salad or fish and the occasional drink or snack. "Sometimes my body says, 'I want sugar,' and I eat sugar," she says. "But my body doesn't need as much food now."

These days she delights in shopping for her slimmed-down figure—"Now I'm a clotheshorse!"—and looking ahead to a potential talk show of her own. (As for Howard Stern, which has been yanked from several major stations, Quivers is sanguine: "It reminds me of the kid in school—we're still being sent to the principal's office.") No matter what, Quivers sees herself maintaining her newfound health for good. "This is my way of life now," she says. "I don't ever want to feel the way I felt ever again."

Michelle Tauber. Mark Dagostino in New York City

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