12/16/2013 AT 10:15 AM ET
Biggest Loser contestant Bobby Saleem had lived with the stigma of obesity for years but it was another stigma – his shame over his sexual orientation – that weighed him down the most.
“I came from a background where for years I felt very ashamed about my sexuality,” Saleem told reporters Wednesday. “I never really had a role model to look up to in my life.”
But thanks to the mentoring he received on the ranch from trainer Bob Harper – who recently spoke publicly about his homosexuality – Saleem has not only lost 135 lbs. but has become more comfortable about living his life as an openly gay man.
“Bob was the perfect role model for me. He made me realize that gay is not wrong. Gay doesn’t mean weak. It empowers me,” said Saleem, 28. “Moving forward, [he] gave me a sense of confidence that I can be a strong individual and not be ashamed of who I truly am as a person.”
Now back home in Chicago where he works as an attorney, Saleem has continued to make strides in both his both his weight loss and coming out journeys.
“Everything has been great. I came out to my father, and it was probably the most liberating thing I’ve done in my entire life,” Saleem said. “He and my family [have] been very supportive. I feel completely blessed.”
And despite suffering from a torn ACL, Saleem is working out three times a day, loves spin classes and is maintaining a diet of 1,500 calories per day in hopes of taking home the at-home prize at the finale.
“I entered the ranch so scared of what my family, friends and co-workers would think about me. I always felt like I had to hide something about myself. And now I’m fearful of nothing,” Saleem told PEOPLE. “I am very proud of the skin I’m in. I’m very proud of the person I am and I’m continuing to work on.”