PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – Ksenya Samsonova slowly takes out the brushes and mixes her paint. She’s at home in Plano and getting ready to finish up a painting that she started months ago.
With each stroke, her face looks a little calmer. “I’ve always liked to draw,” explained Samsonova. “I’m just so focused that I pretty much block everything else out.”
For years, art has been a silent escape, as Samsonova kept a little secret. Samsonova, who is originally from Russia, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was just 8 years old. She says that art helped her get through the hard times.
Samsonova says that she knew she couldn’t eat sugar without a measured dose of insulin. That became her life. By the time she was 13 years old, with each calorie, carbohydrate and dose of insulin measured, Samsonova saw a pattern she liked. She would skip a dose of insulin and her body would rid itself of calories. It was simple… no calories – no weight gain.
“I thought it was an easy way to lose weight,” says Samsonova. “I didn’t see anything wrong with that.”
For years, the high school student, who now lives in Plano, says that she suffered from diabulimia — an eating disorder for type-one diabetics who control their weight by restricting insulin.
The teenager says that she couldn’t help but want to be like her friends. “I grew up around gymnastics and that kind of influenced my view on the body image.”
Samsonova says that there were nights where she was throwing up non-stop and struggling to breathe. “Whenever I was breathing really hard and that was happening, I had the ‘this is the last time.’ But then it’s like a drug addict saying this is my last hit.”
At her lowest weight, Samsonova hit 79 pounds.
Endocrinologist Dr. David Feinstein from Medical City Dallas specializes in treating diabetics like and including Samsonova. He says that the ‘easy weight loss’ mentality is a growing problem among teens and young women.
“The problem is that the individual pays an enormous price because the blood sugars go very high and the high blood sugars can damage the body,” explains Dr. Feinstein.
Without enough insulin, the body will break down both muscle and fat, and try to rid itself of unused glucose through constant urination. “Those calories that they consumed would not go into their body. They would be ultimately flushed out of their body,” explained Dr. Feinstein.
Blindness, amputations and kidney failure are some of the long-term complications that can develop. Patients also risk coma or an early death.
Diabulimia is not a recognized medical condition, but there are a number of warning signs including frequent urination, eating more but still losing weight and high blood sugar levels.
Samsonova has already seen the long-term complications. While only 19-years-old, she admits that her body still hasn’t fully matured. And at just over five feet, she’s probably shorter than she would have been.
Therapy has given the teen strength, emotionally and physically. She now fights to erase the damage and spends a lot of time coming up with healthy meal ideas.
Samsonova is also attached to her art, and has slowly found balance and recovery. “It’s still hard to deal with, knowing that you went through all of that and knowing how miserable the whole experience was,” she says.
Dr. Feinstein thinks that the way to treat diabulimia is with the help of not just a doctor, but a nutritionist and a counselor.
Though resources are limited in the Dallas area, the Elisa Project focuses on prevention and effective treatment of eating disorders.