Skipping meals may seem like a reasonable way to drop some weight, but a new study suggests the opposite may actually be more likely, especially if you are skipping dinner.

Skipping breakfast tends to result in weight gain, not weight loss. It has been shown to hurt kids’ grades and probably doesn't do adults' mental abilities any favors either. Less clear has been the effect of skipping lunch or dinner on weight.

Skipping meals has a big downside. It’s best to stick to three meals a day — even when you’re trying to move the scale in the downward direction.

To study the impact of skipping meals on weight gain, Osaka University researchers followed over 25,000 male and female students at the university for about three years. As part of their yearly check-ups, the students were surveyed on how often they ate breakfast, lunch and dinner; when they ate during the day; and other lifestyle factors such as their sleep schedules, smoking and drinking habits.

Very few students said they skipped dinner, but those who did, either regularly or occasionally, had several characteristics in common. Dinner-skippers were more likely to take a pass on other meals as well and to eat their evening meals later when they ate it at all. They were also frequently older students, more overweight, more often smokers or drinkers and they slept less.

Students who “occasionally” or “more than occasionally” skipped dinner were more likely to experience a 10 percent weight gain over the next three years with females being at higher risk than males. Male students who passed on the evening meal had higher odds of being overweight or obese than female students.

Dinner skippers tended to eat a lower quality diet. They ate fewer vegetables and plant proteins and less fish. The missing foods and fiber may have contributed to weight gain.

Skipping dinner is more likely to lead to weight gain and overweight and obesity than missing breakfast, the study's authors reported. In a surprise finding, missing breakfast or lunch did not appear to be linked to weight gain.

Skipping meals may seem like a good way to cut back on calories, but it backfires if it leads you to be so hungry that you overeat whatever is quick and handy. Skipping meals also means your body is missing out on important nutrients that you need throughout the day.

It’s best to stick to three meals a day — even when you’re trying to move the scale in the downward direction. Eat fewer calories in those three meals, and get more physical activity instead and give your body a ten or more hours with no food intake at all as a way to reboot.

The study is published in Nutrients.