Host-associated microbial communities have profound impacts on animal physiological function, especially nutrition and metabolism. The hypothesis of 'symmorphosis', which posits that the physiological systems of animals are regulated precisely to meet, but not exceed, their imposed functional demands, has been used to understand the integration of physiological systems across levels of biological organization. Although this idea has been criticized, it is recognized as having important heuristic value, even as a null hypothesis, and may, therefore, be a useful tool in understanding how hosts evolve in response to the function of their microbiota. Here, through a hologenomic lens, we discuss how the idea of symmorphosis may be applied to host-microbe interactions. Specifically, we consider scenarios in which host physiology may have evolved to collaborate with the microbiota to perform important functions, and, on the other hand, situations in which services have been completely outsourced to the microbiota, resulting in relaxed selection on host pathways. Following this theoretical discussion, we finally suggest strategies by which these currently speculative ideas may be explicitly tested to further our understanding of host evolution in response to their associated microbial communities. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of the microbiome in host evolution'.