Weight Loss Programs: What Is and Is Not Deductible

If you want to lose weight, you may be able to take a medical expense deduction for certain costs. Remember that for 2018, medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of adjusted gross income are deductible as an itemized deduction if you don’t opt to take the standard deduction.

Doctor’s orders. Taxpayers who are diagnosed with obesity and pay for weight loss programs under a doctor’s orders can deduct the cost of the programs. For example, in a recent case, a taxpayer diagnosed with morbid obesity entered a medically-supervised weight loss program for which he deducted $16,322. The IRS recognizes obesity as a disease for purposes of the medical expense deduction.

Regulations require a taxpayer to produce:

  1. A statement or itemized invoice from the payee showing what kind of treatment was provided and to whom,
  2. Any other expenses and to whom and for what purpose they were incurred, and
  3. The amount paid and the date of payment.

In this case, the taxpayer didn’t substantiate the cost of the weight loss program; his self-prepared statement and testimony about his expenses were insufficient, so his deduction was disallowed (Slawomir J. Fiedziuszko, TC Memo 2018-75).

Reduced-calorie food. No deduction is allowed for personal, living, or family expenses (Code Sec. 262(a)). The IRS says you can’t deduct the cost of diet food or beverages as medical expenses because they are a substitute for what is normally consumed to satisfy nutritional needs (IRS Publication 502). The only exception is if:

  1. The food doesn’t satisfy normal nutritional needs,
  2. The food alleviates or treats an illness, and
  3. The need for the food is substantiated by a physician.

And then, only the amount by which the cost of the special food exceeds the cost of a normal diet is a deductible medical expense.

Exercise program. Membership dues in a gym, health club, or spa, are not deductible as medical expenses, but a separate fee paid for a weight loss program that is prescribed by a doctor to treat a specific disease (including obesity) and not merely for improvement in appearance or general health, is allowed as a medical expense.