Anthropogenic activities have reshaped the relative supply rates of essential elements to organisms. Recent studies suggested that consumer performance is strongly reduced by food that is either very high or very low in relative phosphorus content. However, the generality of such ‘stoichiometric knife‐edge’ and its underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. We studied the response of a planktonic rotifer to a 10‐fold food carbon : phosphorus (C : P) gradient and confirmed the existence of the stoichiometric knife‐edge. Interestingly, we observed a complete homeostatic breakdown associated with strong growth reductions at high food C : P. In contrast, at low food C : P, animals maintained homeostasis despite pronounced performance reductions. Our results suggest that the mechanisms underlying adverse effects of stoichiometric imbalance are determined by both the identity of elements that are limiting and those that are present in excess. Negative effects of excess P reveal an additional way of how eutrophication may affect consumers.