Meet Alan Mullen, the 26-stone 21-year old who's about to change his life
“If you came to me six months ago and asked me to talk about my weight I’d have told you to feck off.”
It was a bet that finally made Alan Mullen take the first steps towards drastically changing his life.
At some point last year, a bet was made between acquaintances of Alan that he would be dead by Christmas. Alan wasn’t meant to hear about that bet but word of it got back to him and he decided that something had to be done.
As he said to himself at the time: “That’s enough, I need to change things here.”
Why were people that knew Alan suggesting that he'd be dead before Christmas? Did his job involve putting his life at risk on a regular basis? Was he part of some renegade Westmeath criminal gang that nobody knows about?
No. They made the bet because Alan is only 21 but weighs just under 27 stone and if he kept going the way he was going then he was on the fast track to an early grave.
Alan takes up the story.
“I was smoking 40 fags a day. I was drinking up to six cans of Coke a day. I was eating takeaways seven days a week. I was eating chocolate bars and sweets. You name it, I was eating it.
“Anything I could get my hands on, I’d eat it seven nights a week. I’d say I haven’t had a home-cooked dinner in four years. I could eat takeaways maybe twice in the one day, no problem.”
Although he says he was a heavy child growing up, Alan’s weight-gain accelerated dramatically during his teenage years, when, he says, he was “putting on two stone for every birthday”.
“I turned 21 this year and I said to myself, ‘Jesus, you’re 27 stone, you need to cop on and have a good chat with yourself’.”
Thankfully, Alan is doing something about it.
Having applied for Operation Transformation late last year, he was one of the five leaders that featured on the first episode of this year’s series on RTE last night and he’s determined to make the most of it.
Progress is slow but steady and he’s already noticing small improvements. When we caught up with Alan on the phone, for instance, he was out for a brisk walk. Following the plan set out for him on the programme, meanwhile, is definitely having an effect.
“I’m eating healthily, cutting out the bars and takeaways and I’m exercising,” Alan says.
“I suppose it’s early days yet but I’m already noticing little things. For example, normally I wouldn’t be in bed till two or three in the morning and now I’m in bed - wrecked from exercise - at nine at night and I'm up again at seven or eight in the morning.”
Most importantly, perhaps, Alan’s attitude towards what he’s doing is spot on, something that shone through in our conversation with him.
Any man that has no problem delivering the line ‘I’ve a chest on me any woman would love’ on national television obviously possesses a healthy sense of humour but Alan can be deadly serious when he wants to be too.
“If you rang me six months ago, I would have completely denied there was anything wrong and I would have blamed everyone but myself,” he says.
“You need to take it on yourself. You can blame nobody but yourself. You need to say ‘It’s my fault, I’m here, how do I get myself out of here?’ Have a real positive attitude about it.”
During one of the more emotional moments of the first episode (you can catch it on the RTE Player here), Alan broke down while relaying his story as everyone poured their hearts out in the ‘circle of truth’. It had a hugely telling effect.
“To be honest, I’ve kept feelings and hurt and hatred in for about 21 years and it just took its toll. In that circle of truth, every person that was there was there for the same reason.
“There was no point in hiding what you felt; it was time to let people know. When I said what I said, I felt everything just lift off me.”
During the programme, Alan also approached the issue of his mortality directly with a hugely profound line that you wouldn’t expect of someone his age.
“It’s not dying that scares me, it’s the journey towards it,” he said.
Speaking about that quote now, he says: “I do see things in black and white. I’ve no problem saying that if I kept going the way I was going I’d be in a graveyard in three years’ time.
"I said, ‘It’s not dying that scares me it’s the journey towards it’ and that would have been the case if I kept going the way I was.
“You’d watch that and you'd think ‘he’s talking sense here’.”
It’s a bit early to be setting ambitious long-term goals but Alan has a few. He wants to go back playing GAA in Rosemount and he also hopes that his story might have an effect on those in a similar situation around the country.
“I’m willing to talk about my weight to anyone who wants to hear or anyone who wants advice.
“I know there are people in the same boat as me all over the country and I just want to be one of those lads who said that they were able to change it.”
Will Alan be a different man by next Christmas? We wouldn’t bet against it.
For more information on Alan’s story and on Operation Transformation, click here.