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Snooping on people is making you fat

Snooping has become the norm in today’s tech-advanced society, but snoops may be at risk of damaging their relationships — and harming their health.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Do you ever sneak a peek at text messages on your partner's cell? Or look up what homes sold for on your street? Maybe you occasionally Google new friends upon first-meeting?

Snooping has become the norm in today’s tech-advanced society, but snoops may be at risk of damaging their relationships — and harming their health. Your nosy nature can wreak havoc both physically and emotionally, with some surprising health consequences.

Weight gain
Snooping can add on pounds. It's stressful worrying about being caught mid-snoop, and constantly covering your tracks when you poke around in other people's beeswax can spiral into emotional overeating. Worse, stress triggers production of cortisol, a hormone that, when present in increased amounts, interferes with the action of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin, and can lead to an increase in appetite.

If you’re a snooper, ask yourself “What am I thinking about? And why I am snooping? What are my feelings about this?” says Dawn Billings, a psychotherapist in Orange City, Fla. Instead of eating those feelings, express them. “If you’re snooping because of distrust based on past experiences, discuss this openly,” says Billings.  Replace mindless eating with a heart to heart.

Obsessing about yet-undiscovered information (where does my sister keep that cocktail ring grandma gave her?) or trying to trip up a teen (let's see if he puts anything under his mattress) leaves your brain in a state of heightened arousal. Plus, continually hashing over the internal issue that led to the snooping (I wish grandma had given me the ring, I'm worried my teen is hanging with questionable friends) makes it that much harder to wind down and achieve restful, restorative sleep.

“Knowing the real reason or anxiety about the need to snoop can certainly help "dial down" the emotional reactions that propel someone to invade someone’s privacy and personal boundaries,” says Lisa Brateman, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist. She suggests talking honestly with the person you’re prone to snoop on. When people ask questions instead of snooping there is a level of respect in the relationship that lets you relax and get to the underlying issue. “We can deal with what we know about head-on,” says Bratemen. For example, if you knew grandma thought your sister loved that ring or your son stores girly mags under the mattress, speaking about it honestly can erase the unknowns producing anxiety that keep you up nights.  If you can’t speak truthfully with the person, you may need to address the issue with a therapist.

Memory, brain function, judgment
Excess adrenaline and cortisol, what's known as the fight-or-flight response, is brought on by snooping and sends blood rushing to the major organs and extremities, leaving less for the frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for problem solving and other high-level cognitive function.

“If you feel the need to snoop, on some level you feel you are being left out of the loop,” says Billings. This is hurtful and causes both stress and anxiety that compromise judgment and inhibit memory. To reel yourself and your brain function back in, ask yourself some questions:

1. Why do I have this need to snoop?

2. How would I damage my relationship with the person I am snooping on if I were caught?

3. Am I harming, violating or breaking someone’s trust by snooping?

Look honestly at your responses and see if talking this out with the person you are snooping on will help, or if you need something more intensive such as therapy to address those underlying issues. Sometimes snooping is a symptom of a problem in a relationship; other times it’s related to self esteem, anger, fear or jealousy.

Do you shamelessly snoop on your significant other, children or friends? Or have you ever caught a snooper going through your stuff? Tell us about it on our TODAY Health Facebook page.