Deducting Your Diet

You may not be able to reduce your weight, but trying to may reduce your taxes, according to a regulation issued by the Internal Revenue Service in 2002. For the first time, the agency agreed that obesity is a disease and that the costs of being treated for it qualify as deductible medical expenses. Until that time, such a program was deductible only if it was prescribed to help treat a specific disease, such as hypertension or diabetes. But, since the IRS now says that obesity is a disease, if a doctor says someone is obese that taxpayer may qualify for the deduction. Thus, a taxpayer who is obese but otherwise healthy may qualify for the deduction.

But before rushing to stock up on low-calorie treats, taxpayers should note that the ruling and the law contain significant restrictions. First, weight-loss costs associated with an effort simply to look better — rather than to treat a disease — still are not deductible. Neither is most diet food. A deduction would be allowed for special food only “if (1) the food alleviates or treats an illness, (2) it is not part of the normal nutritional needs of the taxpayer, and (3) the need for the food is substantiated by a physician,” the IRS said. Special food that is simply a substitute for what the taxpayer normally consumes is not deductible. Food is food, the IRS said, and you don’t get a deduction for eating.

But most significantly, medical expenses of all types, including weight-loss programs, may be deductible only if they are not reimbursed by insurance, and the deduction applies only to unreimbursed expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. This means that most taxpayers would have to run up thousands of dollars in unreimbursed weight-reduction costs before any of them would be deductible.

So, for all of us who have participated in one to many chicken dinners, the IRS is offering at least a glimmer of hope. Happy dieting!!

About benefitsboard

Art Rhodes is the President and CEO of the Church of God Benefits Board, Inc. - the administrator of the Ministers' Retirement Plan and the Church Loan Fund, Inc. The corporate offices of the Benefits Board are in Cleveland, TN.
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