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Biggest Loser finalist Bobby Saleem: Ultimate second chance

Bobby Saleem: Before and After Biggest Loser
Bobby Saleem: Before and After Biggest Loser
Photo provided by NBC Universal

I was given the amazing opportunity to interview Biggest Loser Season 15 Finalist Bobby Saleem. At the finale, Bobby lost a total of 188 pounds during this weight loss journey while on the Biggest Loser Ranch and at home in Chicago, Illinois. He joined Biggest Loser Season 15 winner Rachel Fredrickson and finalist David Brown to compete for the grand prize on February 4, 2014.

Denise Nathan: What are your views of the BL ranch before you arrived on Day 1?

Bobby Saleem: Oh my gosh! I was so nervous. I perhaps made the mistake of watching Season 14 of the Biggest Loser during casting finals. I started to have anxiety and asking myself constantly “What are you getting yourself into!?” I am not the most athletic person, especially at 358 lbs. So, I was very much scared and petrified the first day on the ranch, but I was also hopeful that this was an opportunity to truly change my life. I never made such a decision to focus on my health so as nervous and anxious as I was, I was also excited about the possibility of garnering what I have always wanted, which was health!

DN: What were your expectations of what your experience was going to be?

BS: Frankly, I did not have any expectations of what my experience was going to be. I knew that it was going to be hard and challenging, but nothing really could have prepared me through the mental and physical exhaustion I was about to face. The first few weeks were especially difficult; however, I am a mentally strong person and entirely grateful I did survive those first few weeks. It changed my life. 

DN: What was the one turning point moment that you had while on BL and how did it affect your outlook for the rest of your journey so far? 

BS: The pivotal turning point for my journey on The Biggest Loser was my inspiring conversation with my trainer, Bob Harper. Bob Harper wanted to delve into my insecurity about my sexuality, and ultimately shared that he, too, is a gay man, who has also dealt with the coming out process. Bob explained to me, “I totally understand what you’re talking about. I totally get it – I’m gay. I knew a very long time ago that I was gay, and the family that I grew up around was very much the same in the way – you know, there was so much repression there. I think that when I came out, when I was 17 years old, it was one of those kind of things where I realized there were so many obstacles. But being gay doesn’t mean being weak; being gay doesn’t mean that you are less than anybody else. It’s just who are.”

I digested this momentous conversation with Bob and realized that I not only had a responsibility to myself, but also to the gay community. I then decided to show the strength of a confident, gay male. My story on The Biggest Loser can be surmised as a story of self-acceptance, as well as resilience. I was eliminated on the show in week 9, only to earn my spot back on the ranch week 10. My inner confidence and strength grew as I fought hard for the remaining weeks, eventually landing myself in the top 3 of The Biggest Loser Season 15.

DN: Do you believe that your own coming out to your father helped with the rest of your journey on BL?

BS: Definitely. I actually believe that being eliminated was meant to happen and it had to happen! I was honestly so stressed about the situation because obviously it was part of my story on the show. I did want my father to find out before the show aired or on any promotions before I informed my father personally of my sexuality.

DN: How did it help you?

BS: I came out at the perfect time for me. I was so stressed out on the ranch because I wanted to tell him so badly. Once I was eliminated and home, I immediately came out to my father. After I spoke to him and realized how much my father truly loved me, I can literally feel what must have been 100 pounds of stress and emotional baggage just lift off my shoulders. I felt free and liberated, and I could then solely focus on weight loss and not just my anxiety of telling my father.

DN: When you returned home from the BL after your last day on the ranch, was it a different experience compared to when you were voted off?

BS: No.

DN: Why not?

BS: I was informed immediately after my first elimination that I would have the opportunity to come back on the ranch. I knew once I got home I had to put in the work immediately if I wanted to come back. I grocery shopped immediately, cooked healthy meals, and worked out. That’s the exact same plan I did have when I came home after the last day on the ranch. I knew I had to put the work in, and if anything, had the advantage of being home. I knew I could be successful at home because I had already proven that I could do just that! So, I just implemented the same plan because I had already experienced being home.

DN: What was your mindset like during the time between your last day on the BL ranch and the finale?

BS: I thought I had a chance to win! True, I was a complete underdog, but I think I had proven my stubbornness to make it to finals week. What helped you to stay motivated during that time? My main motivation was my competitive drive and I wanted to do the best possible to be proud of myself. Honestly, I wanted to stand on the weigh in scale for the last time, and know that I have no regrets. As Jillian stated to me that last week on the ranch, “Fear will pass, but regret… lasts forever.” I did not want fear of the competition, and so I embraced the opportunity and made sure I had no regrets. I am happy to report that I have no regrets, and am very happy with my Biggest Loser experience and accomplishments.

DN: What advice do you have for someone who is going through a similar situation where they are dealing with both weight and sexual orientation issues?

BS: I think the first step with dealing with any weight issue is to realize the catalyst for such a food addiction. Once that is realized, people must make decisions to rectify those problems. In the scope of sexual orientation issues, the first step is acceptance. I had to learn to accept my sexuality and be happy about it. Once I was able to get personal acceptance and love of Bobby, then the rest followed. I was prepared to lose my family and friends through this process as I came out. Luckily for me, I never was placed in that situation, as everyone was supportive. However, I was prepared because I loved and accepted myself for who I am and that was the most powerful thing I did. Once that was done, the weight and guilt associated with my issue just came right off!

DN: If you could talk to your pre-BL self, what are some of the things that you would want to tell him?

BS: I would tell him to fight for himself and know that he was worth the effort. I would tell him that there was no reason to be ashamed in being a homosexual male. There was nothing wrong with being gay. I would tell him to accept himself and love himself because no one can do that for him. I would tell him that loving yourself is the key to be successful. Nothing and no one else matters. 

DN: How do you describe your experience on the BL?

BS: It was by far the most difficult experience I have gone through, and trust me when I say that I have gone through many difficult situations in my life! This experience seriously takes the cake (excuse the pun!). The experience made me confront the demons that existed within my soul, and honestly was almost an exorcism of sorts. I had to really delve into the reasons for why I was overweight in the first place. Confronting those reasons and issues is emotionally draining but it must be done.

DN: What are some of the things that you learned on BL that you may have not gained without getting this experience?

BS: I think I learned a lot about nutrition. Some people do not realize that we have to cook and prepare our own foods. The problem is I came into the ranch not knowing how to cook at all! So, I had to rely on my friendly cast mates for a long while. However, I learned to cook and eventually became responsible for my own food. So not only did I learn about healthy eating and nutrition, I also learned how to cook! That experience certainly helped me.

DN: What are some future goals do you have for yourself for the future after BL?

BS: I still want to maintain the level of fitness that I acquired on the show, but implement things I have learned to love. For example, I signed up with Flywheel Chicago because of my newfound love for indoor cycling. I also signed up with Biggest Loser Run/Walk, 8Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. Moreover, I signed up for a 200 mile 2 day AIDs ride to support this great cause and help fight such a horrible disease.

(Note from author: The website for any donation for Bobby Saleem can be made here.)

I signed up for United States Tennis Association tournaments and matches. Finally, I paired up with a bodybuilder to gain some muscle. I have pretty much selected different things that I find fun and will keep me competitive. It also helps with accountability because now I have different coaches and trainers for all of these goals. I am pretty excited!

DN: What do you see yourself doing in the next 5 to 10 years?

BS: In the next 5 to 10 years, I will want to maintain my newfound health and body! I also want to help the gay community, as well as those that have struggled with weight. I will be pairing with the Biggest Loser Resorts to create awareness of their programs to help other individuals. If people are interested in the Resort, please call 877-825-8878 for information and book a stay at one of the resorts! Use promo code “bobby!” for a chance to meet me as well!

DN: What is one part of the BL experience that you would want to take home with you now if you have the option to do so?

BS: I would love to take Bob or Jillian home with me for life! I love them as individuals. They are both hardworking individuals, and truly care about the health of all their contestants. They are loving people and I am truly happy and privileged to have met both of them. I miss not seeing them on a weekly basis, but I know they are always there for me!

I would love to thank Bobby for the awesome opportunity to interview him for this article. It was a honor and pleasure to interview him. You can follow Bobby on Facebook through his personal fan page or on Twitter.

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